Comment Of The Day: “The New York Times Uses Its Sunday Front Page To Extol Progressive Virtue-Signaling Lawn Signs…”

obxoxious sign

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The New York Times Uses Its Sunday Front Page To Extol Progressive Virtue-Signaling Lawn Signs…”:

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Here’s the first problem: with the exception of “kindness is everything,” these statements are vacuous. Each one is trivially true when read as written. For most intents and purposes, nobody in their right mind is going to disagree with the statements’ literal interpretations, even though some of them are normative (subjective value judgments) rather than descriptive (objective observations).

The second problem is that many humans are blurred-brains who haven’t developed the ability to use or recognize critical reasoning, so they skip directly from a vacuous statement to, “and therefore I’m right that we should do this thing, and if you don’t agree then you’re stupid and evil, QED.” Whether or not I agree with their conclusion is irrelevant, because they’ve demonstrated their reasoning process is not to be trusted.

This process is how we get things like moral certitudes and “objective scientific truth.” I need to start giving humans lessons on existential epistemology (and charging for it).

First off, moral certitudes don’t exist, but that’s not the same thing as saying that there is no right or wrong. In place of objective morality, I submit the constructive virtue of ethics, which I approach as follows.

People want things, but physical reality limits our ability to get everyone everything they want. There are different things we can choose to do in response to those limitations, so that more people can get more of what they want. There are also principles that help us make choices that are more constructive for society. When we abide by those principles, the choices we make are not only sustainable over time, but even get more and more of us more and more of what we want. That’s what makes ethics a constructive virtue. The choice isn’t “right or wrong” so much as it’s figuring out which options and principles are most constructive in the short and long terms, by its effects and by the precedent it sets.

Secondly, objective scientific facts are a myth, but that’s not the same thing as saying that all statements are equally true. The process (and mindset) of science is about saying, “We did this experiment and this was the result. Here’s the simplest hypothesis that’s consistent with this result, and here are some other hypotheses which we think are also fairly likely.”

That’s the extent of the “facts.” The hypotheses themselves aren’t “facts”–they’re collections of predictions. For example, “the experiments I ran on this plant are consistent with the hypothesis that it is edible for humans.” That’s a prediction that if you eat the plant, you will not die from it.

Every prediction comes with risks if people count on it being right and it turns out to be wrong, or vice versa. For example, the existence of allergies means that even our plant edibility prediction cannot be 100% certain for each human. People can choose which hypotheses to subscribe to based on the certain costs they’re willing to pay to abide by them and the uncertain risks (and associated consequences) they are willing to accept if they’re wrong. However, blurry human brains sometimes turn those choices into the belief that the hypotheses chosen are “scientific facts” or “truth.”

Different people are willing to pay different costs and take different risks, and those costs and risks may even be measurably different for different people, but that doesn’t mean that a hypothesis is “fact” for one person and not for another. Every hypothesis is still just a collection of predictions with some measured probability of being true or false in different experimental situations. Heck, I could prepare for multiple mutually exclusive predictions being both true and false, but that doesn’t mean I believe any of them to be “facts” or “fake.”

Since Earth doesn’t educate its population very well, opposing groups of people who push for society to make different risk tradeoffs in the face of the same evidence think that their rivals are denying “the science,” “the data,” or “the facts.” In their clumsy attempts to resolve the conflict, they start throwing around evidence filtered through their own confirmation bias, instead of seeking ways to circumvent the risks which are what people actually care about.

Humans need to stop arguing about “the right thing to do” and “the truth” and start discussing what they want, the risks they are and aren’t willing to accept, and how constructive the different options are. Until they do, their civilization will remain dysfunctional.

2 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “The New York Times Uses Its Sunday Front Page To Extol Progressive Virtue-Signaling Lawn Signs…”

  1. Yesterday I thought this might be a COTD. I have had or do have many of these same thoughts but my ability to put thoughts into words is average at best. Of course, this is one reason I read this blog – the commentary here is exceptional as many people have pointed out. Well done.

    • Thanks, Edward! I hope it comes in handy! Helping people put words to important thoughts is a skill I’ve been investing a lot of effort into (and in 2022 I’m hoping to start a career based on it), since it’s all but impossible to negotiate and collaborate without clearly expressed values.

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