Over at Pharyngula Meyers has been discussing The dilemma of the anti-creationist, loosely the question of how does one apply the recommended strategies for engaging ones opponents effectively when they’re all crazy? The context for what Meyer has to say is the grid below.
” … it is a bad idea for critics to engage the very worst of the opposition, and to then congratulate themselves on their success in fighting off the enemy. We should be wrestling with the Green Zone of Worthy Opponents, not wasting our time with crackpots!
There is definitely considerable truth in that. Non-crackpot arguments are more challenging and require more thought, and are ultimately more satisfying. However, there is a problem when the focus is on an issue rather than an individual. Some issues, and I would put evolution in this category, don’t match this model well. While the issue is real and red-hot in the culture, the Green Zone of Worthy Opponents is unfortunately rather underpopulated. There is no one in the green box. So what should we do? Simply ignore the mobs of people populating the red box?
It’s a legitimate question. Sean first proposed the grid as a contribution in the ongoing discussion within the scientific community as to whether one should bother publicly debating evolution Deniers at all, viz:
“…whether it’s better to publicly debate people who are skeptical about evolution and crush them with superior logic and evidence, or to try to cut off their oxygen by refusing to meet them on neutral ground.”
That discussion mirrors an identical one concerning climate change Deniers, no doubt because the groups really only differ in the object of their denial, but not in their tactics and methods (eg here, here and here). However we get into trouble when we try to determine who the “worthy opponents” are.
It’s easy enough to see the futility of the kind of exchange in the following video, which although it is with an evolution Denier, is fairly representative of anything involving David Evans or any number of other climate Deniers. Frankly it’s painful to watch, and more than adequately summarized by Rust Never Sleeps as follows:
- “Show me the evidence!”
- “Here is the evidence.”
- “There is no evidence!”
- “Here is the evidence.”
- “You never show me any evidence!”
- “Here is the evidence.”
- “Why is are you so aggressive? Just show me the evidence.”
- “Here is the evidence.”
… lather, rinse, repeat for 70 minutes…
Of course one of the problems is that many of the climate Deniers, both professional and amateur, clearly suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect:
If the goal is to convince or educate such people then we are wasting our time. They are so clueless that they do even recognize that they are clueless, much less when their ignorance has been exposed and refuted.
It’s not hard to tell that people like John Coleman and Glenn Beck are clearly hard core red zone crazies, whereas a Bjorn Lomborg or Lawrence Solomon are more articulate and less inclined to spraying spittle, but does that make the latter “worthy opponents”?
As Myers notes, although the grid was formulated with reference to people, it is perhaps more useful to think of it as referring to ideas. In that reference frame there are no “worthy opponents” because the messages from the “saner” Deniers are merely a sub-set of same brain dead crackpot whack jobs’ ideas.
Not that all of the climate change Deniers a are necessarily crackpots, but rather all of the climate change Denier ideas and memes demonstrably are. There is not a single Denier meme that is not a fallacy.
Even those attempting to be nothing more than contrarians are stuck because, to paraphrase Dan Gould, the science is empirical, intelligent and rational, which leaves delusional, stupid and crazy as the contrarian position.
Given that, the distinction is not between “crackpots” and “worthy” so much as between spittle/no spittle. If we ignore all of those espousing crackpot ideas we are left with no one to debate. Yet they must be addressed in some way because the Deniers are convincing to a significant part of the population.
The problem with live public debates is that rational discussion can only operate within a metaphoric ring or field with certain boundaries, ie within the ring you use facts, logic, evidence, etc. How does one “win” the match when the opponent simply ignores the “rules” of honest, intelligent discourse and there is no referee calling offside?
In the discussion whether to debate or not I have consistently taken the “no debates” position (here, here, here, and here) for the simple reason that public debates are about performance, not establishing what is true. They are circuses where the Deniers use any tactic to win, logic and truth be damned. Too often this disregard for reality is effective because the public simply cannot distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate arguments.
Yet even as I have taken that stance I continue to blog, which is obviously participation in the public debate. Further, the larger question of ‘should a Hansen debate a Lomborg’ plays itself out in small on every blog and forum as whether one should “feed the Trolls” or not. I participate, as does pretty much everyone else.
All of which is to say that the whole debate/no debate is something of a Red Herring. We already do it, and we’re going to keep doing it. To an extent all debate is circus in that none of the disputants are likely to change their stance. The Deniers won’t change because their Denial is based on reasons other than the scientific facts of global climate. The rest of us we are unlikely to change unless those realities do.
So we are talking at cross purposes really, and the concepts of worthy opponents or ideas become meaningless. We are both vying for the public ear, with one side is playing chess and the other dodge ball. There are no referees and it is the crowd who will determine who won “the game”.
The sports metaphor is apt in another sense as well. Many in “the crowd” already have a favoured ‘team’, and win or lose they are unlikely to change their allegiance, at least not based on one or two “games” ie encounters.
Which is to say that the struggle is a political one, not intellectual. Political, not in the narrow sense of who to vote for or lobby, but in the broadest sense of how we live and what our lives mean. The question is not whether we “debate”, but rather how we “engage” our opponents.
Empirical science is the core of our position and both affirming and critically examining the intellectual truth of it will always be fundamental; necessary, but not sufficient. What we need is a much deeper analysis of who we confront and engage, how, when, where, and to what end.
Now it may seem trivial to have said that because most people understand it at some level, but I find the understanding is implicit and assumed rather than explicit and discussed. We discuss the intellectual debates without reference to how they fit into a broader engagement. The discussion tends to be tactical rather than strategic.I suspect this is partially because so many of those involved are from the scientific community, and for many of them the issue of a broader engagement is anathema.
However, without that overt acknowledgment of the broader struggle, the terms of reference for what constitutes effective or successful within the narrower frame of intellectual discourse are not necessarily even relevant, much less achievable. Whether we want to admit it or not, the broader struggle is what we are involved in, and unless we engage fully, as a collective and as individuals, we are going to lose it.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
“Extreme” rainfall events now more frequent and even more extreme than they were in the 1950s. In the Great Plains, for example, the amount of rain that falls during the heaviest one percent of rainy days has grown by 15 percent over the last 50 years.. Earth Gauge
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
Denier “Challenge” aka Deathwatch Update: Day 287 … still no evidence.
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