How Not to Treat Ideas
The philosophical school I consider most sensible sees ideas as the means by which human beings gain understanding of reality. Ideas are what help us navigate reality so we can live successfully, which is why so much effort has been spent on developing, criticizing and analyzing ideas throughout human history, especially in the academy, not just in the sciences but in matters of public concern.
But in the modern age a good many thinkers have come to believe that ideas are actually expressions of passions or interests, brought about so as to promote the satisfaction of desires. Or, in other words, that they are simply ideology.
This attitude appeared to be what lay behind a question some journalists on TV were asking about Ron Paul. On a round table television program I was watching recently, several of journalists were discussing results from the various primaries and caucuses, and some of them asked, "What is Ron Paul after? What does he want? What is driving him?" This in part because, well, he isn't very likely to win. And the answer that Ron Paul is actually interested in figuring things out and then teaching people something – for example about the US Constitution, about the Federal Reserve system, about the nature of money – just kept being overlooked. No, Paul has to have an agenda of some sort, like wanting to be a vice-presidential candidate, like getting appointed to some federal department, etc. Just advancing and defending certain ideas so as to promote understanding on the part of the electorate seems to be unfathomable to these journalists. There has to be an angle!
Here is one main source of the widespread cynicism about American politics. People look at candidates and office holders as always being out for something – power, wealth, fame, and the like. Wanting to be correct about political matters seems not to matter. Getting it right about the Fed or the US Constitution – that is, truth – is passe. Why?
There is also that related way of dealing with people's opinions and ideas, namely, by explaining them away as having been caused by one's upbringing. The often heard question, "Where is he or she coming from?" indicates this approach. When you hold that economic stimulus is folly or helpful, it doesn't matter whether the idea is true; just explain it either linking it to the person's special interest or background. Concern yourself with what put the idea in the mind. (Which implies, of course, that the answer to that question will also be treated as having been caused by someone's background, history, or upbringing, ad infinitum!)
All of this may indicate why so many people in public life don't really argue about the merits of ideas or positions on various issues but focus, instead, on the motivations and character of those advancing the ideas. And to undermine those ideas, then, will not require better ideas, sound criticism and so forth but, instead, the calling into question of the motivations and character of whoever defends them. Never mind if an idea has merit. Ask, instead, what explains that someone holds it and whether the motivation is benign. Besmirching the thinker is what works, not criticizing what he or she thinks! So as to impugn Ron Paul's or Mitt Romney's or Newt Gingrich's position, link it to some kind of questionable motive. He holds his foreign policy views because he has loyalties to certain foreign countries since his parents or associates were born there! He opposes the Federal Reserve Bank because he hates bankers who help his adversaries, not because the ideas are right and those who oppose them are, well, wrong.
I received an unsolicited email the other day that questioned President Obama's loyalty to the United States of America, claiming, instead, that he is working for Kenya! I couldn't resist replying that it doesn't matter to me if he came from the moon or Mars, what matters is whether he has good ideas on public affairs. Immediately I got a reply saying well it should matter to me if I care about where this country is going.
This kind of reasoning bothers me not only because it commits the informal genetic fallacy, which questions ideas not because of their flaws but because of their origins, but also because I have been subject to similar dismissal of my own thinking: "You come from Communist Hungary, right? So obviously you would think this or that."
Posted by Merridth80 on 04/06/12 08:11 AM
Look @ Detroit, for instance. When I was a child here, many years ago, I could not understand why black people wanted to get into positions on the City Council.
Now that I am an adult, I understand it WELL! They saw white people on the City Council getting filthy Rich! They have been in all City positions for most of my life, now. But don't mention that the ones on City Council, are rich, & doing illegal things with tax money for cronies, and now the City is Broke & crumbling from disrepair, & misuse of tax money!
Am I wrong for Not believing in Politicians, especially in Detroit? Michigan? America?
Posted by davidnrobyn on 04/06/12 12:48 AM
Good commentary, Tibor. 20th-(and 21st-)century mankind has largely given up on the idea of truth, that is, that there really does exist such an entity as Truth. People such as yourself (and myself as well) who do hold to such a concept are dismissed as hopelessly out-of-touch. Francis Schaeffer explains the phenomenon well in an historical context in his books. I recommend them to anyone who wants to know why modern and post-modern people think the way they do.
Posted by rossbcan on 04/05/12 08:07 PM
not in the mirror, for sure
Posted by rossbcan on 04/05/12 07:29 PM
AKA: shoot the messenger, at the behest of the court jester, in disguise as the sage.
Posted by John the Just on 04/05/12 07:00 PM
There is the famous saying, 'First they ignore you; then they ridicule you; then they fight you; then you win.' Most talking heads approach Ron Paul and his message by either ignoring him, or by ridiculing him. Let's hope we soon get to the point where it is necessary to fight against him and the ideas - the smell of victory will be in the air!
Along the lines of ignoring Ron Paul and the validity of what he says, the specific technique is what is called the Ad Hominem argument. Instead of discussing the logic or illogic of the facts as presented, the discussion is swung onto the man. It is a classic type of Logical Fallacy.
In logic and rhetoric, a fallacy is usually an improper argumentation in reasoning often resulting in a misconception or presumption. There are many ways to divert the argument from a purely logical basis - one of them is called Ignoratio Elenchi also known as Irrelevant Conclusion.
A subset of Irrelevant Conclusion is an Ad Hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for Argumentum Ad Hominem. It is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.
Ad Hominem Circumstantial is a further subset of Ad Hominem arguments - it points out that someone is in circumstances such that he is disposed to take a particular position. Ad hominem circumstantial constitutes an attack on the basis of a source. Or in this case - a cloaked attack based on an irrelevant supposed special interest or background bias. This is fallacious because a disposition to make a certain argument does not make the argument false. Click to view link
Posted by chad2 on 04/05/12 04:21 PM
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Posted by rossbcan on 04/05/12 02:33 PM
"-even though evolution is a religion, rather than science."
REAL evolution IS SCIENCE. THEIR intreptetation is religion, as are ALL so called social "scientists" whom are paid to provide rationalizations (prostitute themselves and degrees) in service of our slavers. Some of the dumbest people you would care to meet, blinded by their self-decreed, based on tautoligal "logic" "intelligence".
The truth is far simpler and, unambiguous:
Click to view link
Posted by GlennD on 04/05/12 01:55 PM
This is nothing new. It is almost a universal operating proceedure for pundits and politicians. If you wish a better understanding search "Bulverism," or C.S. Lewis. Essentially, means if you can't counter your opponent's argument, assume he is wrong and go on to explain why his opinion is not valid due to some ingrained bias. Communists have always used it; "Your opinion is invalid, because you are a part of the burgoiuse." Liberals, "Your opinion is invalid, because you are bought off by big oil interests.(insurance interests, big pharma, etc, etc)" It's pretty much the only thing they use, since they have no logical arguments. Same with evolutionists. "Your opinion is not valid, because you are not a scientist, like ourselves,"-even though evolution is a religion, rather than science.
Posted by jkluttz on 04/05/12 01:03 PM
Deception is widely used in nature. One is wise to look for it everywhere, especially in our fellow human beings.
Posted by rossbcan on 04/05/12 11:58 AM
"Where are you coming from" comes from the perspective (assumption) that we are programmed by our environment and experiences which leads to unbreakanble habits "of character", doomed to be "dust in the wind", of our experiences, if you will.
A large part of our environment is psychopaths in the immediate vicinity and "in control" by guns, pointed at us. So, if you just treat experiences as "reality", without looking deeper, you, also will be psychopathic, by reacting to psychopaths. (insanity is CONTAGEOUS, a FACT which the psychiatric "profession" is in strategic denial of)
Some Ideas are important, because they are REAL and timeless, not a "matter of opinion" or circumstance. Here's how to find them:
Click to view link
That's not "where I am coming from", it is "what I am coming from".
Posted by asparagui on 04/05/12 11:00 AM
I have encountered this line of though from time to time. I believe it to be a sign of manifest self-rationalization. That is to say, the speaker is saying "surely this guy is corrupt/conflicted/supported by outside interests/etc". Thus, the object described can be safely ignored. Perhaps more subtly, then the speaker can create excuses for his own negative desires.
Short and sweet, a nice Tibor article. ]:3