Tuesday, November 30, 2021

What do we value when we value ignorance and hypocrisy?

Ben Smith's article in the New York Times (November 28, 2021) observes that it's easier to handle "an information crisis...than a political one." Some "well-meaning communications experts" have tended to believe, Smith writes, that "if only responsible journalists and technologists could explain how misguided Mr. Trump’s statements were, surely the citizenry would come around." Unfortunately, they "never quite understood that the people who liked him knew what was going on, laughed about it and voted for him despite, or perhaps even because of, the times he went 'too far.'" And that is still how they feel. It's not a lack of information. Some people deliberately choose falsehood. That is their politics.

On that note... Spotted on Twitter, an argument:

"Hemry, Local Bartender" says: People who take health precautions during pandemic — vaccines, masks — tend to assume that people who deliberately avoid these precautions are missing some information. But maybe they just understand any sort of public health measure as totalitarian. For them, there are no shades of lockdown. Their values might be "completely withdrawn from the social compact." When others incorrectly assume that they have certain values, it further "violently alienates them." And there may be nothing you can do to change their minds. You can't give them values like empathy and solidarity. As long as they lack relevant values, you can't give them information (usefully organized facts for particular purposes). They will do nothing with the information.

Several days ago, I had a brief online exchange with a blogger (not Hemry; someone else). This blogger made a strange, incoherent argument. I've squinted at it trying to put it into some logical order. Roughly, this was his position. This is as coherent as I can possibly make it.

He says: (1) Our ethical choices are “authentic” only if we have total individual freedom. When we instead constrain ourselves to manage collective risk, we’re focusing on an abstraction. It’s a hyperobject whose justification we don’t fully understand. Since we don’t understand it, we’re not making a truly ethical choice. We’re only ethical when we make choices whose extended ramifications we fully understand.

He also says: (2) There is a coronavirus, but people don’t die of it. They die, instead, of unspecified “political and economic” causes that are being blamed on the virus. Therefore, transmitting the virus is “solidarity.” (I guess his reasoning is that, if enough of us get the virus — as if over 260 million confirmed cases and over 5 million deaths worldwide is not yet enough evidence — we will eventually realize the true political and economic causes of other people's deaths? Seems to be a kind of scientific experiment to isolate variables?)

(1) and (2) are apparently contradictory, though. (1) says not to act on things you don't understand. (2) says let's run a biology experiment on each other and deliberately give each other disease to find out why 5 million people are said to have already died of that disease so that we can better understand it. That’s this guy's value system. That's "ethical engagement" (1) and "solidarity" (2) to him. In a sense, the contradiction — the hypocrisy — is what he values.

I think that is similar to what Hemry the Bartender points out.

Then, this: Not everyone on the right believes in total individual freedom all the time, of course. There are right-wing arguments for imposing restrictions on many people's bodies. Notably, they generally want to restrict a woman's right to choose abortion. Upon reading Michelle Goldberg's article in the New York Times yesterday, a related question posed itself to me this way: Is it that some people sincerely believe that totalitarian coercion ought to apply to some people and not others (e.g. women of childbearing age and not men), or are they deliberately, strategically hypocritical because hypocrisy proves to be a successful political strategy for them? In other words, do they sincerely hold any ideals, or do they just seek power?

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