The Right to be Wrong

10 Apr

Many years ago, a friend … convinced … me to watch Gone With The Wind.  I wasn’t impressed, for various reasons (none of which are particularly important here), but there was one moment that lingered in my memory.  The ‘heroes’ – Southern Gentlemen of a breed that largely only existed in myth – are discussing their chances of victory in the forthcoming civil war.  One of them makes the mistake of asking Rhett Butler for his opinion, which leads to the following exchange (clip):

Rhett: I think it’s hard winning a war with words, gentlemen.

Charles: What do you mean, sir?

Rhett: I mean, Mr. Hamilton, there’s not a cannon factory in the whole South.

Man: What difference does that make, sir, to a gentleman?

Rhett: I’m afraid it’s going to make a great deal of difference to a great many gentlemen, sir.

Charles: Are you hinting, Mr. Butler, that the Yankees can lick us?

Rhett: No, I’m not hinting. I’m saying very plainly that the Yankees are better equipped than we. They’ve got factories, shipyards, coalmines… and a fleet to bottle up our harbours and starve us to death. All we’ve got is cotton, and slaves and… arrogance.

This does not go down well, naturally.

Man: That’s treacherous!

Charles: I refuse to listen to any renegade talk!

Rhett: Well, I’m sorry if the truth offends you.

Charles: Apologies aren’t enough sir. I hear you were turned out of West Point, Mr. Rhett Butler. And that you aren’t received in a decent family in Charleston. Not even your own.

Rhett: I apologize again for all my shortcomings. Mr. Wilkes, Perhaps you won’t mind if I walk about and look over your place. I seem to be spoiling everybody’s brandy and cigars and… dreams of victory. 

What struck me, as I remembered the scene, was how closely it resembles modern day problems.  Rhett is asked for his opinion, which goes down poorly; he is offered a chance to recant, which he declines; he is personally attacked and smeared and made to feel unwelcome, so he leaves (but not without a final parting shot.)  And, of course, Rhett is absolutely right.  The South is outmatched nearly everywhere.  The Yankees not only can lick them, they do lick them.

And, just like our modern day issues, there is no attempt to debate Rhett in good faith.  Charles could have pointed to the Southern fighting man, to skilled generals and brave soldiers who would – theoretically – give the South a considerable advantage, at least in the early months of the war.  Or he could have pointed to the demand for cotton overseas, insisting that Britain and/or France would force the North to abandon its blockade for fear of economic collapse.  Or … my point is there were plenty of pro-victory arguments that could have been put forward, in good faith.  They might not be convincing arguments, but at least they’d be good faith arguments.  The reaction to the merest hint they might be wrong – and Rhett’s plain speaking – suggests a certain basic insecurity.

I have zero sympathy for the Confederate States, but I’ll say one thing for them.  The gentlemen – one of them, anyway – was prepared to put his life on the line to silence Rhett in a duel (one of the others even tells him, afterwards, that he would have lost.)  The same cannot be said for modern-day social justice activists. 

***

I am, if I may make so bold, one of those people who is interested in truth.  I don’t care so much who says [whatever] – I care about whether or not [whatever] is actually true.  An idea can and must be tested, to determine if it holds good or if it shatters under the first touch of an inquisitive mind.  It’s fairly easy to test an argument, if everyone involved is arguing in good faith.  A good faith argument – and arguer – is not personal, never personal.  It is merely concerned with objective fact and subjective arguments.  For example, a fact that states “Texas City is the capital of Texas” is easily checked and objectively wrong; a fact that states “Edinburgh has better fish and chips than Glasgow” is a subjective statement of opinion, one that allows for (at least) two possible – and legitimate – answers.

Those who can and do put forward legitimate – i.e. good faith – arguments are, in my view, suggesting they are secure in their positions.  Those who put forward illegitimate – i.e. bad faith – arguments are suggesting they are not.  A person who calmly and reasonably argues for or against his position is likely to make a good impression, even if his arguments are unconvincing.  (In the same way one can lose at chess, then shake his opponent’s hand and proceed to the next game.)  A person who throws a colossal fit, engages in histrionics and demands that the other guy be silenced (disinvited, deplatformed, banned, etc) is someone who will make a very bad impression, even if his audience agrees with his points!  And this, it should be noted, can undermine the rightness of his cause.

For example, a few years ago, I attended a panel at a convention that touched on the Sad Puppies controversy.  One of the panellists put forward an argument that went a little like this: “Vox Day supports the Sad Puppies, Vox Day is a fascist bastard, therefore the Sad Puppies are evil.”  Quite apart from the sheer number of inaccuracies in the statement, it misses the fundamental point that [whatever] is not rendered right or wrong by whoever says it.  Just because Vox Day said something doesn’t make it automatically wrong.  That argument leads to logical fallacies like “Hitler was a vegetarian and openly promoted the lifestyle, therefore vegetarians are evil.”  I’m pretty sure that every last vegetarian would find that fallacy offensive.

The Sad Puppies affair does show, on a small scale, the problems caused by bad faith arguments.  No one would have objected to a statement that started “the Sad Puppy books are not Hugo-worthy” and gone on to give a calm and reasonable argument.  Even if the arguments were unconvincing, they would not have the corrosive effects of bad faith arguments like the one I mentioned above and many more.  To use a slightly different example, I have played and lost many – many, many – games of chess.  But the handful of losses that rankle, that convinced me never to play those opponents again, were the ones that were fundamentally unfair

To put forward an argument does not necessarily mean the arguer supports it – nor does it mean that the mere act of saying the argument renders the arguer beyond the pale.  The Catholic Church, for example, used to employ a ‘Devil’s Advocate,’ who had the job of critically examining every candidate for sainthood and putting forward arguments why the candidate should not be canonised.  They did not earn any official disapproval for pointing out the flaws, although – in some case – I imagine they drew the ire of the candidate’s supporters.  (I imagine it was a little easier as most candidates were safely dead before the church had to decide if they deserved to be canonised or not.)  It was their job to point out the problems and help their fellows to place them in context and decide if they disqualified the candidate.  This is, of course, why militaries tend to form ‘red teams,’ groups with a mandate to think as the enemy thinks – or as close to it as they can come – and try to predict what the enemy will do.  This can and does lead to embarrassment, but it also gives the good guys a chance to fix problems before they blow up in their faces. 

The problem facing bad actors, however, is that silencing their opponents only lends credence to their arguments.  Simple logic argues that, if someone can prove their opponent wrong, why wouldn’t they?  The inference – rightly or wrongly – is that they can’t, which leads to cases of fascist propaganda being taken seriously because the folks in charge – however defined – are acting in a manner that suggests they should be taken seriously.  When Google fired James Damore, for example, it did so in a manner that proved Google was unable or unwilling to engage with different viewpoints (and thus suggested it couldn’t).  It made no attempt to prove Damore wrong before it fired him.  Worse, by clamping down on dissent, Google made sure it wouldn’t receive any more honest opinions.  Who’d dare offer comment, even anonymously, when he thought it might get him fired?  

And so, if no one is prepared to speak out, Google – and any other large corporation – might discover it runs into trouble it could have avoided, if they’d been willing to listen to dissenters.  It is no coincidence that states such as the USSR, Iran, China, Iraq and many others found themselves sliding downhill when they decided they wanted to keep ideas out, while keeping their people in.  They didn’t stop their people thinking – how could they?  They just forced them to stay quiet until it was too late.  

The backlash of silencing people – directly or indirectly – can be disastrous.  Corporations that destroy their employees’ faith in them are in serious trouble.  Military forces that refuse to listen to their red teams are doomed when they try to go to war.  Governments that try to cover up disasters – everything from Chernobyl to the Migrant Crisis and Coronavirus – find they have no credibility left.

The point is not that the dissenters are right.  The point is that you have to give them a fair hearing, and you have to refrain from punishing them for ‘bad’ opinions, even if you don’t like them.  At best, you’ll be able to confirm your positions and make a show of open-mindedness; at worst, you’ll avoid disaster. 

I was looking up the Gone With The Wind quote above and ended up skimming through the TV Tropes page.  It raised an interesting alternate character interpretation of Prissy, one of the black slaves on the plantation, in suggesting she pretends not to know about “birthing babies”, only to casually dish out useful childbirth advice at a later, less convenient time.  One interpretation is that she could have learnt a thing or two, between the first birth and the second, but another is that she was playing stupid.  She was a slave, then a ‘freewoman’ who was not truly free.  Letting her mistress’s baby die through keeping her mouth shut might have been her only hope of revenge against a system that had effectively enslaved her from birth.

Petty, spiteful, very human … and precisely what you get if you treat people poorly.

20 Responses to “The Right to be Wrong”

  1. Mike April 10, 2020 at 7:09 pm #

    When will you be releasing the next book to Their Darkest Hour?

    • chrishanger April 12, 2020 at 4:05 pm #

      I don’t know. Still working on making the plot unique (or at least different.)

      Chris

      • Mike April 12, 2020 at 5:13 pm #

        Hi, thanks for the reply, I think it being set in Britain made it unique for me, its hard to find a good alien invasion book set in Britain.

      • chrishanger April 20, 2020 at 3:43 pm #

        There’s ‘Operation Thunder Child’

        Seriously, I’ll take a look at the plot and see if I can do more with it.

        Chris

  2. Mike April 10, 2020 at 7:10 pm #

    Hi, when will you you be releasing the next book to Their Darkest Hour?

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 10, 2020 at 7:24 pm #

    But but… To truly debate “those people” implies that “those people” might be correct and we can’t do That! [Sarcastic Grin]

    • Doc Sithicus April 11, 2020 at 1:00 am #

      To have a debate you need to have two sides willing to engage in conversation.

      Trying to debate SJW is pointless – they don’t want to hear your side. If you’re not agreeing with them that makes you racist/sexist/islamophobe/homophobe/Nazi or whatever is the opposite of their viewpoint.

  4. utabintarbo April 10, 2020 at 8:34 pm #

    This is kinda the whole raison d’etre of ANTIFA, et al.

  5. PhilippeO April 11, 2020 at 5:35 am #

    These is one-sided Analysis. The premise of SJW movement is “All Man created Equal”, which is generally accepted in all of Western World post45. Yes that is subjective statement.

    None of opponent of SJW movement is brave enough to debate that underlying dogma. There talk about “alternative opinion “, etc but nobody brave enough to openly state their opinion against that statement.

    And there is no fact to be gained from debate. “All man created equal” is subjective opinion, so does all opposing statement. There is no “fact”.

  6. Jack Hudler April 11, 2020 at 11:41 am #

    I was born in Texas City, and I can vouch, that it’s a far cry from Austin. I will add, that the latter is full of latter day liberal hippie SJW’s.

  7. Hanno Frerichs April 11, 2020 at 1:23 pm #

    Personally i think the whole dabate rather stupid.

    Be it sad puppies or anything else it usually goes like that.

    One group far left or right have an idea that I describe as legitimate.
    Then they have initial success get organised and go way to far with bad faith actors joining their ranks.

    Afterwards they face a backlash and or a counter movement and if they had enough bad faith actors in their ranks the genrel public or important parts of the wider public joins the counter movement and the cycle repeats itself in some form.

    Be it sad puppies being joined by rapid puppies.

    or marvel facing backlash for their newest Heros safespace and snowflake even by people widely regarded as left.

    I mean go on Youtube there a channels with millions of views that just point out the stupid ideas of extreme left wings,(Sargon for example) while letting it look like most left wings are like SJW’s and the left have similar channels pointing fingers at the alt right.

  8. Brian April 11, 2020 at 2:16 pm #

    I call it absolutism. It allows one to choose one element that many people would agree with and burn every other thing associated with it.

    My favorite is abortion and veganism. A vegan will almost curse you, but certainly NOT be quiet about eating a fertilized chicken egg. Because that is killing. And have absolutely no problem with supporting abortion.

    It is interesting you bring up the US civil war. I have mentioned it here before and MANY have not liked it. My ancestors were severely impacted by that war. Yes slavery is bad. But that was the “absolutist” excuse to invade the south. You mentioned the main reason, economics, specifically exponential cotton grown in the south due to the cotton gin caused the south to ship cotton to Europe instead of the north. That is why they burned the warehouses, the railroads, the means of production. If you cared about the slaves, why would you eliminate their future employers means of reemployment. Why did they burn free black sharecropper infrastructure?

    Again, it was the same as BREXIT. Sovereign States forced policies that were absolutist. And the north was not like the EU. Instead of letting them leave, they invaded (or failed to remove their troops if you want to be precise.)

    And what do we have today?
    You don’t like Abortion? Tough. In the US we have the right to legally assemble and protest on public grounds like the sidewalk. There are common rules for all protestors. Except if you are outside an abortion clinic. They are different.
    You don’t like guns? 99% of gun deaths in the US are due to handguns. But they want to ban “ugly” long guns. 80% of handgun deaths in the US are due to suicide. 18% are drug and gang related. But still they want to take away the ugly guns. The reason for the 2nd Amendment wasn’t for hunting. It wasn’t even for protection against home invaders. It was to protect against the government. “Shall Not Be Infringed.” Yet it is easier to get said abortion that a gun. (Automatic weapons, machine guns, are illegal in the US. They have only been used in a crime 3 times in the US since they were made illegal. In all 3 cases, it was a government employee with legal access to the guns that stole them and used them.)
    And during this pandemic? A man arrested for paddle boarding alone on the ocean. 20 people ticketed for eating take out in their vehicles in a parking lot that faced the ocean. The government making rules about how ministers can have services during Holy Week. (Of course, only Christian and Jewish services. The Mosques are not enforced.)

    So we have absolutist behavior in the Government policymakers.
    I find it darkly humorous that the US models for this pandemic are Extremely significantly wrong and being revised AND YOU MUST NOT ASK QUESTIONS WHY! And the same is said of our Global Warming models. Has one been right yet? Even close? in 40 years?
    The US has reduced our “carbon footprint” to 1980’s levels despite our significant growth since then. So why is the US the one that has to shut down and pay? We are succeeding. If you really want to reduce the WORLD carbon footprint, let me know when you want to bomb India and China. China is adding more than one coal fired power plant per month. So go get’em Absolutists!

  9. Tony Perkins April 11, 2020 at 2:41 pm #

    Yup, I have been seeing this everywhere these last few years. MSM and big corporations have been virtue signalling and bowing to SJW’s demands…. Hollywood and advertisement industries infested with those educated in the University systems that seem to have been taken over by politically driven activists with agendas that instils hate and fear and is rewriting history to suit their narrative. The western world has become bonkers and regular folks are getting pretty sick of it.

    Celebrities who virtue signal and preach to the masses while awarding themselves shiny trinkets for pretending to be something they are not, preaching how you should think and behave while having little to no real life experience and living in gated communities with a massive pile of money to comfort them have lost all credibility with the general public.

    Yet if you say something to challenge these ideas you are instantly called the vilest of names and accused of being something you are clearly not like fascist white supremacist or misogynist. You cannot argue back. You cannot be allowed to have a different opinion. If you are a straight white male…. you have the weakest position of all because then you become a white supremacist misogynistic homophobic bigot.

  10. Big Ben April 12, 2020 at 6:21 pm #

    You challenge us to examine actions and statements, etc. Apply logic and reason to what we observe. Debate in good faith, don’t just yell at each other.
    And in my humble opinion the underlying gist of most of your posts is conservatives good, liberals idiots … though you practice what you preach and put forth reasonable arguments.

    Trump holds one of his rambling press conferences / televised campaign rally’s just a few days ago and reading from prepared statements (PREPARED STATEMENTS, not off the cuff in his usual bouts of verbal diarrhea) unequivocally states that in the midst of a global pandemic he’s going to freeze all US funding to the World Health Organization.

    “We’re gonna put a hold on money spent to the WHO, we’re gonna put a very powerful hold on it, and we’re gonna see.” Donald J. Trump, reading from prepared written statements on national television, April 2020
    Then, when questioned by a reporter at that very same press conference / campaign rally as to whether he really said WHAT HE IN FACT SAID minutes earlier, he lied.
    “I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we’re going to look at it.” [reporter says that he did say what he said] “No I didn’t, I said we’re going to look at it.”
    We’ve got the tape. It’s all over the internet. Millions of us watched it live. You said what you said, Mr. President.
    Willfully ignoring reality does not change it, not even if you’re the President of the United States.

    And this man has an approval rating of 94% among Republicans … another lie he loves to tell on national television. Still, by most polls he enjoys the support of between 85% and 90% of Republicans, though only 6% to 13% of Democrats.
    …. He’ll go down as one of the most divisive presidents in American history, yes he will.
    …. He’s an honest, truthful man, not at all.
    …. Republicans and conservatives love him, yes they do, despite overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that he does not act in their best interest.
    …. Republicans and conservatives will vote for him in the upcoming election, yes they will, even as he surpasses 16,000 verifiably false or misleading statements in his three years in office.
    Those are lies he’s telling YOU, conservatives. He’s lying to you with a smile on his face and you love him for it. Mexico will pay for the wall, we’re going to spend a trillion dollars on our failing infrastructure, I’ll replace Obamacare with something better, the tax cuts will pay for themselves, we’ll easily and quickly win the trade war, climate change is a Chinese hoax, Covid19 is a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats to get me out of office because they failed at impeachment, we’ll be back to normal by Easter … that’s today, by the way. Anyone feel normal?
    (Happy Easter, everyone! Make sure you sterilize your Easter eggs … you don’t know when that bunny last washed his paws!)
    I have a hard time finding a 100% honest thing the man has ever said, except perhaps that he loves grabbing women by the p____y. Of course, he lied when he denied saying that, too.

    I sincerely wish more people took your advice, Chris. Argued logically, didn’t lie, didn’t assign demeaning nicknames to whoever they disagreed with … the American President and his supporters most of all.

    • Peke April 13, 2020 at 11:06 pm #

      Stop with the whole “he’s lying to you, you are voting against your interests” shtick, and please add some substantiation to…

      “climate change is a Chinese hoax, Covid19 is a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats to get me out of office because they failed at impeachment”

      …and the surrounding statements.

      And for the love of whatever deity you worship, please read the following a few times until it clicks:

      The conservatives don’t support him nor judge him for what he SAYS, be it on Twitter or in front of the cameras.
      They support him for what he DOES, meaning an improving economy, less regulations and less government interference. (and the economy WAS improving, until this Covid disaster came along).

      You want a slick President that looks good and says all the right things in fron of a camera, always has a witty retort, and has ultra-meme-able Twitter posts, then by all means, elect Jim Carrey.

      Me, I’d vote for Trump over him, any day. If I could vote.

      • Big Ben April 25, 2020 at 3:32 am #

        Those “surrounding comments” you carefully ignored were promises made by Candidate Trump, or statements repeated ad nauseam as president.
        Every single one was a broken promise. His track record on keeping those major campaign promises is unfortunately 0%.
        Every single one of those “surrounding comments” was a lie. Lies most Republicans swallowed hook, line and sinker. Name one American President who has lied more frequently and about more things than Trump … I’ll wait.

        I love it when conservatives / republicans say, “Don’t listen to anything the President says. Don’t read anything he tweets.” Why do y’all say that? Could it possibly be because Trump is a megalomaniacal narcissistic pathological liar? Would you ever say that about any democrat President?

        And his actions?
        Spending two months misleading the American people on the severity of Covid-19, leading to our #1 status … more cases and more than twice as many deaths as any country in the world? Claiming absolute authority over the states, but accepting no responsibility and blaming every failure on those same states?
        Tax cuts that the CBO claims will add trillions to the national debt? Disastrous ongoing trade wars that have accomplished nothing – except hurting the American farmer so bad they’ve needed tens of billions of dollars of additional federal bailout money over the last two years? Insulting our allies while repeatedly praising the worst dictators on the planet? Repeatedly stating that he trusted Putin (you know, ex-KGB commie President-for-life Putin) over the entire American intelligence community? Abrogating every international agreement he possibly could, reneging on our promises at every opportunity?
        Freezing funding to the World Health Organization amidst a lethal global pandemic?
        These are some of the actions you claim conservatives support. None of that seems to have cost him the adoring support of many conservatives.

        And all Trump has done regarding the economy is not screw up Obama’s 7+ year growth trend and ongoing employment gains … and of course, Trump desperately tries to take 100% of the credit.
        Of course, W inherited a reasonably robust economy back in ‘00. He cut taxes and fooled around with deregulation, too, and we all know how that worked out by the end of his second term.

        And “windmills cause cancer!” What’s he doing about the cancer windmills?!
        Or detonating a nuclear weapon in the eye of a hurricane? You know, like the one he drew a sharpie bubble about to reinforce the lie he told about the hurricane’s path.
        …. Oh, right. Don’t listen to anything the fool says, even when he says it on national TV during an official press conference in a time of crisis.

        What you propose is a false choice, Trump or a clown. I voted for McCain in the 2000 primary because I thought he was the best possible candidate at the time. I couldn’t believe W edged him out.

        I want a well spoken, highly educated, politically experienced and honest president who offers practical, doable ideas to move the country forward. There are somewhere around 155,000,000 Americans eligible to be President … and this is the best we can do?! This is the best the Republican Party can come up with?

        At least Jim Carrey makes us laugh in a good way – not a disbelieving snort when the Commander in Chief ponders injecting bleach on national television and orders one of his top docs to “look into it.”

        For the love of whatever deity you worship, ponder the above irrefutable facts a few times until it clicks … AND DON’T INJECT OR DRINK BLEACH OR ANY OTHER DISINFECTANT, no matter what the Leader of the Free World says.

  11. Reader April 14, 2020 at 12:14 pm #

    Your post made me think about ad hominem attacks. They are usually bad, when logical arguments are used and facts are examined. But there are instances when ad hominem is necessary.

    More complex topics require expert opinions. Experts are humans, and can lie, or have biases. It is, therefore, necessary to call them out. If a person’s job demands that person to not to understand certain things, that person will opine appropriately, acting in self-interest. And when sitting on a panel, no one will demand of them a re-examination of the underlying facts to verify that their expert analysis is indeed correct and unbiased – there is no time for that, and it requires other, independent experts to verify the conclusions. Not something you can do on the spot. Thus the only option is not to prove the expert wrong, but to point out that the expert is unfit to offer an opinion.

    Courts have a process to ensure this doesn’t happen (I am not a lawyer, but I vaguely remember something about expert credibility). Scientific papers have peer review, which supposedly prevents this. But in all other circumstances “experts” are allowed to present their personal opinions or paid opinions as undeniable facts, and picking their lies apart is not always feasible. Silencing them might be the only option.

    This issue is different from the one you present, but also results in censorship. Something to think about.

    • Peke April 14, 2020 at 3:22 pm #

      No. Just no.

      Silencing an “expert” instead of “picking apart their lies” is
      a) the easy way out,
      b) strongly suggestive that there are no lies to pick apart, and
      c) the worst kind of precedent to set, bot legally and otherwise.

      Yo might “win” in the short term, but sooner rather than later, the “silence them!” crowd will find that the rest don’t agree with their crap and ignore their cries of “wolf, wolf!”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pixel Scroll 4/16/20 And Faintly Falling, Like The Descent Of Their Last End, Upon All The Scrolling And The Filed | File 770 - April 17, 2020

    […] (14) RHETORIC…ARISTOTLE…SOMETHING. Five years later (!), Chris Nuttall is still trying to reshape what the Sad and Rabid Puppies did into an argument he can win: “The Right to be Wrong”. […]

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