Anyone have an ideological immersion course?

Yesterday, Chris Hallquist put up a post in the Atheism channel titled “Everyone in America should fail to learn a foreign language” which I quite enjoyed, especially this section:

So they can have the experience of failing to learn a foreign language. You can learn a lot from failing to learn a foreign language. You learn about how languages work. About the features of English you never thought about before even though they’re around you constantly. About the ways in which English didn’t have to be the way it is.

If you’re really sharp, you might stop marvel at how amazing it is that you’re able to speak one language without having to really think about it. And if you don’t manage to have that thought on your own, you’ll at least be able to understand what the heck Steven Pinker is talking about when he makes it. (Seriously, I can’t conceive of what it’s like to read Pinker if you’ve never tried to learn a foreign language.) Ditto understanding AI researchers talk about how hard machine translation is.

I have languages on the the brain, since, this week, I’ve started using Duolingo + Beeminder to try to refresh my French.  And when I get back to California, I get to file my paperwork to take a summer ASL class at the local community college.  French was the first foreign language I learned (I’ve got about a year and a half of Latin stored somewhere), and I remember I got such a frisson from understanding the logic of a language.  I found out what the subjunctive was (besides the thing that Tevye is using in “If I Were a Rich Man“).  Learning that you can ask “Why?” about language and get different answers really makes you excited about playing and tinkering with them (perhaps a la Frindle).

I’m not sure that Duolingo or the community college class are the best ways to keep learning and reviewing, but they’re better than I’ve done on my own, without structure.  So, this all makes me pretty nostalgic for my college debate group, which is how I started to learn to be fluent (or mostly to flounder) in other people’s ideological, epistemological, or philosophical dialects.  I got to meet and tussle with brilliant people who disagreed with me and try to figure out when I should give ground and when they would.

There are plenty of websites that will help you review normal languages with spaced repetition, but I’m not aware of any program to help you review what it’s like to think like other people, so you get better at passing Ideological Turing Tests, and maybe empathy to boot.  So, until that mythical service exists, may I recommend Arnold Kling’s The Three Languages of Politics as a booster shot?

Economist Arnold Kling tries to break down mainstream American politics into three main ways of thinking: Conservative, Progressive, and Libertarian.  Each group has a different answer to the question: what are you protecting and from whom?  Conservatives tend to defend civilization from barbarism, progressives guard the oppressed from their oppressors, and libertarians try to safeguard freedom from coercion.

Kling is like an ideological optometrist, giving you a possibly disorienting sense of what it’s like to look at the world from a different position.  It’s easier to find ways to work together if you can see why your opponent loves what they’re trying to protect and you can avoid giving inadvertent offence. It’s not an accident Kling finds more than just a dichotomous split.  Within either political party or any movement I’ve found, people can come to the same policy position for different reasons and be surprised or betrayed when they find out they disagree on a deeper level.

So, definitely worth a read.  And I guess you’ll get some chance to practice if you try to pick out these three types in this summer’s Ideological Turing Test, which will probably take place in July, and I’ll start brainstorming formats for at the beginning of June.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

    Conservatives tend to defend civilization from barbarism, progressives guard the oppressed from their oppressors, and libertarians try to safeguard freedom from coercion.

    Is this how the groups perceive themselves? Because it seems like arguments could be made that libertarians’ views ultimately sell out freedom, that ‘progressives’ are oppressors par excellence, and conservatives are pretty barbaric.

    It’s easier to find ways to work together if you can see why your opponent loves what they’re trying to protect and you can avoid giving inadvertent offence.

    I completely approve of the idea of trying to truly understand one’s opposition. I think (for example) that there are many ‘liberal Christians’ whose liberalism is ultimately rooted in something benign and reasonable. But I think the implied view here – that self-described progressives, conservatives, and libertarians ultimately have well-thought-out views that are at the very least well-meaning – often doesn’t hold up. Many people are just plain tribal, and commit to their views the way people commit to sports teams. Team X is the best, no matter what, because shut up.

    You can see some of that in the ‘avoid giving inadvertent offence’ bit. There’s a considerable problem with people actively attempting to offend people who disagree with them. Hell, the very idea that one’s opponents are ultimately rational people with a different set of core values is one that threatens many people politically – because conceding that one’s opponents have an ultimately rational motivation is seen as something that, if recognized, is a political liability.

    • Randy Gritter

      Seeing your opponents as just as rational and just as virtuous as you are is a revolution. The fact is that there can be just one truth on many of these questions. So very good and very smart people have obviously become very sure of something false. When you grasp the fact that you are not immune to this it rocks your world. Not just that you can be wrong but you can be sure to the very core of you being about something, something you consider yourself quite knowledgeable about, and still be very wrong. Your mind delivers certainty when certainty cannot be justified.

      In the religious world there is a way out. The Catholic church can deliver real certainty in a way no human institution could. In politics there is really no solution. We tend to pick one political ideology, like you said, sometimes a lot like we pick sports teams. We pick based on where we live or based on our family or based on who is winning right now.

      The narrative of protection is interesting. Protecting someone is a way of justifying what would otherwise be evil. I want to use the power of the state against someone but it is OK because I am the protector and they are the menace. That coupled with the fact that human minds deliver certainty about this justification when none exists and you can get something pretty scary pretty quick.

      • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

        The problem I’m having here is that sometimes, opponents are not ‘just as rational and virtuous’ as I am. Sometimes they’re more. Sometimes they’re less. It changes from situation to situation.

        Now, I am entirely capable of accepting some amount of self-skepticism or self-doubt. I think that’s healthy. I think it’s also important to understand the possible ideal motivations behind given idea X and conflicting idea Y. The problem is that ideas aren’t people, and just because an ideal motivation exists for idea X doesn’t mean that the person who has idea X has that ideal motivation.

        Mostly, I think it’s a mistake to trick yourself into thinking that everyone who disagrees with you are motivated by noble ideals at heart – just as I think it’s a mistake to think everyone who agrees with you is also motivated by noble ideals.

        • Randy Gritter

          I can write off many people with bad motives. I can even assume bad motives of people I don’t know. The trouble I ran into was that I got to know people really well and they disagreed about important matters. Neither side seemed the least bit questionable either morally or intellectually. I knew who I thought was right.

          I just could not get my mind around why people who seemed very capable of arriving at the truth instead became totally sure of what I thought was wrong. It seemed like they had made some deep assumptions without even knowing it. But if these guys could make such an error how did I know how many false assumptions the guys I agreed with had made?

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

            I’m not denying at all that there are reasonable people who disagree and have pure motives, or people who agree and have bad motives, or any such thing.

            But I’m tired of this suggestion that the right thing to do is assume the absolute best core values of every person out there who discusses these topics. I think it’s not only unrealistic, but actually absurd many times — where we have to pretend that, say, the Westboro Baptist Church is at the end of the day probably, gosh darn it, just doing what they think is best.

            Granted, that’s an extreme. But I don’t think what occupies the middle of the extremes is ‘people who have seriously thought through these issues and are just being consistent in adherence to their core values’. I’d say I’m cynical, but really, I think I’m just realistic.

          • Dan F.

            That’s just the thing, as abhorrent as WBC is, I think that *they* really do believe that they are doing what is best. Consider that they only have friends and allies in their own cult – what other possible motive, other than misplaced conviction, could accurately explain their actions (well, demonic possession but I think that is a subtype of “misplaced conviction”)?

            It may be that our response to them doesn’t necessarily have to be, “let’s all have a calm and collected philosophical discussion about our different opinions and be nice to each other.” I’m quite ok with the idea that some misplaced convictions ought to be fought tooth and nail and really don’t merit any significant consideration other than to articulate errors. However, the humanity of the WBC people does require charity (falls in the “love your enemies” category) even as we fight to destroy their demonic little cult.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

            That’s just the thing, as abhorrent as WBC is, I think that *they* really do believe that they are doing what is best.

            And I disagree. Doubly so considering the money they make from egging people into attacking them, and then proceeding to sue them. It’s a live possibility that they’re knowingly useful idiots.

            Consider that they only have friends and allies in their own cult

            Says who? How do you know who they know?

            Do you think they seal themselves off hermetically from television? From commentary? Are they some manner of media whore org that nevertheless completely insulates itself from the media? Did they think the Reason Rally was sincere in inviting them to show up at their little pow-wow?

            However, the humanity of the WBC people does require charity

            It requires no such thing in my view. We don’t have to regard insincere people as sincere, when the evidence points to a lack of sincerity.

          • Iota

            I apologize in advance for intruding on your conversation, but I thought I might have something relevant to offer:

            > Says who? How do you know who they know?

            As a rule high control groups do try to limit their member’s exposure to and ties in the outside world or, if that cannot be done, provide them with mental clichés and thought-stoppers. I’m no expert but WBC strikes me as an abusive high control group. I’m basing at least part of this assessment on things like this (click). Now, to be perfectly clear, I have no proof whatsoever that this testimony isn’t fake. I’m assuming it isn’t, but I may be wrong.

            I admit that what interests me more than the record of individual groups (like WBC) are the processes in general. For this you might look at, e.g. Elisabeth Esther’s blog, specifically those tagged “cults” (link).

            As a general rule, I’d approach people who – apparently – come form a high-control/abusive environment (whether in terms of religion or, say, personal relationships) as most likely sincere (unless they hold high leadership positions), in the sense that they are likely to hold certain convictions with apparent honesty, likely because they have been trained or have trained themselves into not committing “thought crimes” against their group.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

            As a rule high control groups do try to limit their member’s exposure to and ties in the outside world or, if that cannot be done, provide them with mental clichés and thought-stoppers. I’m no expert but WBC strikes me as an abusive high control group.

            Here’s a problem with this claim: you’re saying that the WBC ‘limits exposure to and ties in the outside world’ by bringing their members out in public on an obnoxiously regular basis, where they are routinely exposed to criticisms and counter-protests.

            We’re not talking about the highly armed reclusive cult off in the mountains behind barbed wire.

            On the flipside, do you think having open access to the internet necessarily makes a person open-minded and immune to groupthink and ‘thought-stoppers’? Here’s one to consider: you don’t need a ‘high-control group’ to produce a person who is a loyal and mindless footsoldier wedded to a particular view. Some people seem entirely capable of turning themselves into as much.

          • Iota

            I’m probably not making myself clear enough but I didn’t say the WBC limits exposure (I had no reason to say that). I said abusive/high-control groups do either limit exposure or/and provide strategies to deal with unwelcome exposure (and they differ from other groups in that they do so, to a significant extent via abuse). I consider (tentatively, as a non-expert) the WBC to be such a group, so I don’t expect the members to behave like other people.

            I won’t name groups here, but I can think of a few I consider potentially abusive and (since we’re talking religion) proselytising. A follower trying to recruit members will be exposed to counter-protest. But that very fact can be used to strengthen their sense of belonging (“See, they HATE you, because you’re RIGHT…”)

            Also, limiting exposure doesn’t automatically mean living in a locked compound. It might, but it might just as well mean looking down on having good friends “outside”, for example. Place enough distance between two people, add authority and you increase chances that they won’t actually listen to each other. Even if they’re both talking.

            > do you think having open access to the internet necessarily makes a person open-minded and immune to groupthink and ‘thought-stoppers’?

            What in my comment gave you that idea?

            The Internet is great for building echo-chambers if you want them. It’s probably even better than newspapers or television, because the recipient controls the information flow.

            Plus, I’ve never seen a tool automatically make people do something with it. I may be stupid, but I don’t think I’m stupid enough to think the Internet is different.

            What I do think is that if two people both have Internet access (or access to books, or friends to have thought-provoking conversation with), but one of them e.g. gets beaten (as a kid) whenever he or she dares disagree with an authority figure on anything (including small things), it’s likely the one that had been beaten will be less willing to want to try to find and accept information on his or her own later. Because they’ve had it drilled into them that disagreeing is VERY (and immediately) dangerous.

            > Some people seem entirely capable of turning themselves into as much.

            Sure. And some people get helped along by abuse. My policy is to cut people some slack when I’m not sure why they’re behaving badly. If I get enough data that proves to me they are twisted by choice, I will treat them as such. But if there are potentially exonerating circumstances (such as growing up amidst abuse), I’m willing to try to extend more patience rather than less.

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

            I said abusive/high-control groups do either limit exposure or/and provide strategies to deal with unwelcome exposure (and they differ from other groups in that they do so, to a significant extent via abuse). I consider (tentatively, as a non-expert) the WBC to be such a group, so I don’t expect the members to behave like other people.

            I think ‘limiting exposure or providing strategies to deal with unwelcome exposure’ succinctly sums up cultural pressures that go far, far beyond what people would normally call ‘abusive/high-control groups’. More below.

            I won’t name groups here, but I can think of a few I consider potentially abusive and (since we’re talking religion) proselytising.

            Who’s talking religion, exclusively? The WBC is a great example, but the examples run across the board – political groups, atheist groups, and more.

            A follower trying to recruit members will be exposed to counter-protest. But that very fact can be used to strengthen their sense of belonging (“See, they HATE you, because you’re RIGHT…”)

            In other words, they’ll talk about how their intellectual opponents belong to abusive/high-control groups?

            Because they’ve had it drilled into them that disagreeing is VERY (and immediately) dangerous.

            Or they’ve convinced themselves of as much – beatings not necessary.

            The fact is, you don’t need to ‘drill that into’ a lot of people. Here’s one way to think about it: let’s say you regard politician X’s policies as highly undesirable. Politician X is coming up for re-election. Do you need to be brainwashed or beaten to motivate yourself to try your damndest to publicly paint everything Politician X does in a negative light? Not really.

          • Iota

            > far, far beyond what people would normally call ‘abusive/high-control groups’.

            Maybe. My take is that a lot of what some people consider normal can become abusive with just a little tweaking… You know the Milgram experiment, right?

            > In other words, they’ll talk about how their intellectual opponents belong to abusive/high-control groups?

            Yes, that too can be a method for distancing, if it makes you respect the people less. Do my comments give you the impression I respect them less as people?

            BTW: Given that I’m not talking to anyone from the WBC, right not they aren’t my “intellectual opponents” at present. Have I suggested that about anyone else in particular?

            > Do you need to be brainwashed or beaten to motivate yourself to try your damndest to publicly paint everything Politician X does in a negative light? Not really.

            Depends. I think the problem is a generic “you”. People are different. Some people won’t on their own, want to demean an opponent THAT much. They will object to the policies, but won’t – for example – randomly call the politician’s wife a ____ or go crazy if he visits a dying mother in hospital. Some will (they don’t need encouragement). An abusive environment puts pressure on the ones who wouldn’t want it, to the point of making the behaviour uniform.

            To show you want I mean – there’s such a thing as child soldiers (primarily in African conflicts). Sure, you can argue that some nine or twelve year old would pick up a gun and shoot someone, regardless. The problem is that in Africa the frequency with which that happens is a lot higher than elsewhere.

            It’s not that people cannot be jerks on their own. It’s that good environments put some stops on that (and we have a few jerks less), while abusive environments amp the effect up (and we get a lot of jerks).

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

            Maybe. My take is that a lot of what some people consider normal can become abusive with just a little tweaking… You know the Milgram experiment, right?

            Yep.

            Yes, that too can be a method for distancing, if it makes you respect the people less. Do my comments give you the impression I respect them less as people?

            BTW: Given that I’m not talking to anyone from the WBC, right not they aren’t my “intellectual opponents” at present. Have I suggested that about anyone else in particular?

            I don’t know who you are, what you believe, or what your general practice and attitude tends to be. I’m expressing cynicism at various implied claims in the OP, and in this thread.

            Also, don’t you think that’s a bit easy? “They’re not my intellectual opponents at present”? I don’t think it works like that, where if they aren’t in the conversation immediately they’re off in some kind of state of intellectual quantum uncertainty.

            Depends. I think the problem is a generic “you”. People are different. Some people won’t on their own, want to demean an opponent THAT much. They will object to the policies, but won’t – for example – randomly call the politician’s wife a ____ or go crazy if he visits a dying mother in hospital.

            And the reason some – even many – will refrain from doing that is because they make a judgment over what the political ramifications for doing so are. Randomly calling the politician’s wife a ____, etc, generally tend not to be politically wise options.

            Now, if the politician turns out to have done a lot of charity, will they dump all over his charitable works, question his sincerity, etc – even if all evidence and testimony points to his sincerity? Yep, many will. In fact, that evidence pointing to the sincerity will make disputing the claims loudly all the more important.

            It’s not that people cannot be jerks on their own. It’s that good environments put some stops on that (and we have a few jerks less), while abusive environments amp the effect up (and we get a lot of jerks).

            Again, I think this is too easy. Is an environment where the the morality of sexual acts (X) is considered verboten to question or deny a ‘good environment’? Depends on who you ask. Your abusive jerk is someone else’s thoughtfully dedicated paragon, and yet someone else’s useful idiot.

          • Iota

            > I’m expressing cynicism

            I REALLY don’t want this to sound condescending or anything because there’s a realistic possibility you are a much better person than I am, but I’m pretty sure there’s no way to phrase this completely non-confrontationally, so apologies in advance:

            Based on my own experiences, I’d say cynicism isn’t healthy for a Christian and AFAIR you’ve identified pretty recently as a Byzantine rite Catholic. I love my snark just as much as anyone else but there is a reason why Hope is a Theological Virtue.

            (Just in case this matters: I’m a sort-of-practising-in-personal-crisis Latin rite Catholic)

            > Also, don’t you think that’s a bit easy?

            Well, the longer version of my explanation would be that I don’t generally think of people as being my „opponents” unless they’re doing something bad to me personally or to someone I have an immediate chance to shield by becoming an opponent. An individual member of the WBC might be my opponent if such circumstances arise. But otherwise, I don’t think of them as such – I don’t find that useful. Given I tend to have a short temper, it’s much more useful for me personally to actually practice being patient and understanding.

            There may be people who are the exact reverse and for whom maintaining righteous anger is actually a good idea. That almost certainly isn’t me. And, given how much misdirected anger, assumptions of bad will etc. I see around (and occasionally have to diffuse), I’m generally sceptical when people extol “righetous anger”.

            I MAY be overestimating the incidence of unjustified anger and contempt. I can’t prove I’m NOT overestimating.

            And I’d probably refrain from telling a WBC member “You are a brainwashed member of a cult” unless I actually thought THAT was useful. Which it, in most cases, won’t be.

            (Also, I don’t live in the USA, so for practical purposes I should substitute a member of some other similar group for the local WBC)

            > Your abusive jerk is someone else’s thoughtfully dedicated paragon, and yet someone else’s useful idiot.

            I’m not a relativist. I think such things as actual good and actual evil exist. Just like words “bald” and “hairy” do express actual differences in the amount of hair. It’s just that there’s a lot of stuff in-between. If someone tells me a person who looks bald to me is very hairy, I will respectfully disagree.

            So, for example, a situation where “If we were caught even standing across the fence from a neighborhood boy, that would cause us to get a beating.” (from the source linked by me above) or “My dad told me, ‘You beat him. I want to hear it or you’re both going to get beat.’ So I beat him. I beat Nate with a mattock. My brothers and sisters are entitled to hate me.” is probably pretty twisted (unless we assume Mark was either exaggerating or lying).

            I’m going to go ahead and assume this doesn’t exactly make you an entirely well-balanced individual. And that it’s a different situation than when you’re just stupid or malicious by your own design.

            [This is also related to the idea of systematic sin – i.e. that people can sometimes be twisted by other people’s sin]

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

            Based on my own experiences, I’d say cynicism isn’t healthy for a Christian and AFAIR you’ve identified pretty recently as a Byzantine rite Catholic. I love my snark just as much as anyone else but there is a reason why Hope is a Theological Virtue.

            I don’t think it’s impossible or even particularly difficult to balance hope with cynicism. Cynicism is a kind of often-realistic pessimism about the state of the world as it is. Hope is the belief that things can or even will get better. I’ve got plenty of hope, warranted or not. But hope for the future does not entail being blind to a present reality.

            And I’d probably refrain from telling a WBC member “You are a brainwashed member of a cult” unless I actually thought THAT was useful. Which it, in most cases, won’t be.

            I wouldn’t either, at least not as a rule. Someone being beyond dialogue at the moment doesn’t mean ‘they are my enemy, I must belittle and insult them’. What a waste of time, as cathartic as it is now and then. I screw up plenty on this front.

            But I reject the idea that, when someone gives off all the signs of seeing a given conversation as an opportunity to score points, to mock and belittle, to knock things down, it’s a good or even particularly Christian idea to treat them as if they were Great Reasonable People who perhaps just need someone to smile through it all and maybe they’ll be gotten through to. It causes literal harm to do that.

            Either way, I’m not rejecting patience and understanding. If anything I’m emphasizing understanding – and sometimes understanding someone means understanding that dialogue is not an option, or that their motivations are not pure or even necessarily reasonable.

            I’m not a relativist. I think such things as actual good and actual evil exist. Just like words “bald” and “hairy” do express actual differences in the amount of hair. It’s just that there’s a lot of stuff in-between. If someone tells me a person who looks bald to me is very hairy, I will respectfully disagree.

            I’m no relativist either. I’m talking purely in practical terms here. Objective evils and goods, I accept as existing.

            But individual standards people or groups throw out? That’s another story. Being a reasonable, good person by some people’s standards – even most of society’s – can be objectively wrong, to put it one way.

          • Iota

            > But hope for the future does not entail being blind to a present reality.

            My problem with this is that I think all the virtues are, to a large extent personalist (oriented towards a person). So I have hope for a particular person I’m talking to. Otherwise I find it very easy to fall into the trap of being hopeful and charitable towards Mankind but hating my neighbour’s guts for some trivial but annoying reason. Or being hopeful about humanity but thinking my co-worker is a useless moron.

            I find it rather difficult, mentally, to indulge in thinking that on the macroscopic level people are e.g. “useful idiots” and then switch to being kind to a particular stranger. My brain has the tendency to process conflict by assuming that the other side is ignorant, stupid or malicious anyhow (and it’s not just my brain; I recommend this talk by Katharine Shultz – I don’t approve of her solution unreservedly but the mechanism she identifies is something I’m willing to bet money on). If worst comes to worst and the person actually shows signs of being either, my brain will do very well with making that assessment on its own, without my additional help.

            This is where thinking of people as hurt rather than stupid or malicious comes in handy. It allows me to acknowledge the danger while not becoming actually contemptuous or angry with the person. Because I’m flawed too, in other respects and if I’m not then it’s either Grace or luck, so I have no particular reason to congratulate myself. The fact, for example, I wasn’t born in a hyper-Calvinist family where my father thought he was God’s only spokesman is clearly not something I earned or merited. I just got it. And the members of the Phelps family didn’t.

            > But I reject the idea that, when someone gives off all the signs of seeing a given conversation as an opportunity to score points, to mock and belittle, to knock things down, it’s a good or even particularly Christian idea to treat them as if they were Great Reasonable People who perhaps just need someone to smile through it all and maybe they’ll be gotten through to. It causes literal harm to do that.

            I don’t think I do that. And I’m not Leah (“and I don’t play her on TV”, as another commenter usually adds) but don’t think that’s the necessary conclusion. Getting to the point is a risk when you’re being lenient by design, but being harsh or pessimistic by design has a different risk associated with it – that you will alienate people who could eventually be helped.

            If someone asked me what to do about that I’d say it’s probably best to identify which of the two tendencies you naturally have (to be lenient or to be strict) and not lean into it. Your instinctive orientation will always be there when you REALLY need it. But given it’s your preference, you probably need it less often than you think you do.

            TL;DR: IMO naturally strict people should practice lenience, naturally lenient people should practice being strict.

            > Being a reasonable, good person by some people’s standards – even most of society’s – can be objectively wrong, to put it one way.

            But that’s the basic problem of existence. It has always been like that, just the details have been different.

            My answer would be:

            (1) We all live as ourselves. There’s no way around this. Most of us live in cultures that approve of something that e.g. Catholic teaching rejects (since we’re both Catholic I’m going to use this as the common denominator here). Large numbers of us either grudgingly or unthinkingly accept this thing because we can’t fix it or even don’t realize we SHOULD be fixing it (if it’s really ingrained in the culture). This is AFAIR when we commit objective evil without being subjectively entirely guilty.

            Catholicism’s response to this seems to generally be, as far as I understand, to invoke God’s Mercy while suggesting we watch out for that kind of thing when we can.

            (2) I control only myself, so my basic responsibility is for myself. I don’t control the rest of the society. On a micro-scale I may take the time to try and not think my interlocutors either stupid or rotten but this in no way guarantees that THEY won’t think I’m a hateful bigot. I’m fine with that because that is the price you pay for having opinions (a little disappointed maybe). So my response is to create an uneven playing field where I assume I have more responsibilities than the other side does simply because I can actually enforce responsibilities on myself.

            On a macro-scale, social approval is not a good metric for what I should be doing (social disapproval isn’t either). This is an uncomfortable position because I can’t guarantee I’m doing the right thing. But when I’m doing the wrong thing honestly, see #1

          • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude

            My problem with this is that I think all the virtues are, to a large extent personalist (oriented towards a person). So I have hope for a particular person I’m talking to.

            I can have hope for everyone. But that doesn’t mean I need to have hope in that particular conversation, with me, right then and there. God can accomplish all things. Me? Not so much. I find it mistaken to have an attitude that cashes out to, ‘I have hope for everyone, so I treat every encounter I have with an individual as one that has a live and real potential to get them to change their minds, despite all evidence to the contrary.’ I just find it unrealistic, and certainly not spiritually warranted. I don’t like going to biblical quotes on this, but the idea o shaking the dust off one’s shoes and moving on comes to mind.

            I find it rather difficult, mentally, to indulge in thinking that on the macroscopic level people are e.g. “useful idiots” and then switch to being kind to a particular stranger.

            ‘Useful idiots’ is a practical statement of what people amount to. It’s not really a prescription of how to think about them in a personal way. It’s a bit like saying ‘everyone is a sinner’. True statement. It doesn’t mean that all interactions I have with people is one of me thinking ‘I am dealing with a SINNER right now’. They’re other things too.

            Getting to the point is a risk when you’re being lenient by design, but being harsh or pessimistic by design has a different risk associated with it – that you will alienate people who could eventually be helped.

            I’m not advocating over-lenience or over-harshness. I’m advocating what I think is simple realism. The reason I objected to Leah’s categorizations is because it seemed to me she was taking the absolute ideal view of various classes of people (which themselves seem a bit too stark) as ‘the standard view of how individuals tend to think about these things at heart’. That seemed far too idyllic, and – here’s the kicker – I see this kind of view being advocated very, very often. So, I had some criticisms.

            Really, I think my criticisms here have been even-handed. What part was extreme in your view?

          • Randy Gritter

            Motives might be bad. How do you know? I can’t even be sure of my own motives. If people say I oppose abortion because I am subconsciously anti-woman, how can I respond? Denying it is useless. At the end of the day you need something more solid than trusting anyone’s motives anyway.

      • avalpert

        “In the religious world there is a way out. The Catholic church can deliver real certainty in a way no human institution could. ”

        This is just silly – the Catholic church doesn’t deliver real certainty, it delivers exactly what you previous paragraph suggests. It’s a shame that you had to go and sully a very insightful point by not recognizing the same point in the terrains where you insist you are certain.

        As a wide man once said, “when you grasp the fact that you are not immune to this it rocks your world.”

        • Dan F.

          I first really grasped this concept on my way into the Catholic church six years ago (having been a relatively content Protestant up till college, then a malcontent Protestant because of the weakness of key principles and hypocrisy of people).

          The Church delivers certainty (as much as can be had without retreating to a Cartesian “I think, therefore I am”) because of her history, because of the testimony of the Apostles, guarded from error and handed down throughout the intervening centuries to us today. This in spite of the various crooks, adulterers, liars, murderers etc. who have been Pope or Bishop.

          I think that Randy is quite right to move from “knowing that you can be wrong” to “the Catholic Church provides real certainty”. That’s the logical progression of belief and understanding.

          • avalpert

            Yes, except to any objective outside observer who will immediately notice that an institution can be very wrong for millennia, people’s testimonies deliver as much certainty as a crystal ball and the assertion that those crooks, adulterers, lairs and murders have been guarded from error is a mere assertion of the system itself – hardly a guarantee of its truth.

            But it sure makes it easier for people who want to believe it is true to be certain in their convictions – again, playing right into the trap Randy so eloquently pointed out (even if he doesn’t see that it applies equally to his religious convictions).

          • tedseeber

            Catholic means universal. There aren’t any objective outside observers.

          • avalpert

            Yes, if you define the universe as those who already agree with you it makes it much easier – of course just because you call yourself universal doesn’t make is so.

            Man, you so nutty.

          • tedseeber

            We aren’t universal because people agree with us. We are universal because we have observed both those who agree and those who disagree, and have found the better path between the two- the path that works for *all* human beings, with no exceptions, if they will but try it.

            Due to bias, they won’t even try it. Heck, 98% of those who agree with us, won’t even try it, if the last United States Presidential Election is any indication.

          • avalpert

            You aren’t universal because you aren’t universal. You aren’t the first or the only cult to assert that you have found a better path – and like those that came before, those that came since and those that will come in the future you are all incorrect.

            But hey, at least you know that you belong to a special club of those select few who really get it – good for you you funny man.

          • tedseeber

            We are the only ones to invent science and survive the downfall of three distinct parent attempts at civilization. We’ll survive your downfall as well.

          • avalpert

            Uh, sure. Though I highly doubt you will survive my downfall – I’m guessing you will be decomposing dust before that. But at least you will head to your grave thinking you got right, just like every cultist before you from the promise keepers to scientologists.

          • tedseeber

            The Church Triumphant is eternal. So yes, the Catholic Church will even survive every last human being dead.

            What have YOU got to compare to that?

          • avalpert

            The Leader is good, the Leader is great, I surrender my will as of this date…

            You are so cute with your precious triumphant church. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – enjoy the trip.

          • tedseeber

            You can’t gain wisdom by playing Duck Duck Goose. But you can gain an eternity of watching your body rot.

          • avalpert

            I don’t know, duck duck goose can teach some the wisdom of non-linearity – but no matter, we all get to have an eternity of a rotting body (well, as far as we are concerned it is as if it is an eternity) whether we played the game or not.

          • tedseeber

            As far as we are concerned, the process of dying may well be an eternity in and of itself. The Tibetan Book of the Dead seems to have that as a possible interpretation, and I know of no more extensive study into Near Death Experiences than that.

          • Randy Gritter

            The assertion is testable. An an institution can be very wrong. If you show the Catholic church is wrong in a matter that is claims as infallible then you can show the assertion is false. Right now you have just made a counter-assertion.

            Testimonies mean what they mean. If someone has tested these claims and found them true then that means something if you believe that person is a good tester. You are still free to do the research yourself. I did. I had to check the data because I was not going to take anyone’s word for it.

            It does make it easier for people like me. It allows some way to have a school of thought that I can trust. I think that is a basic human need. Nobody can go through life being suspicious of every thinker they know. There need to be some they trust. So it makes sense that God would give us a way to fill that need. It is more plausible then the protestant answer where God just leaves us snookered. Faced with many reasonable opinions and no way to really know which is right.

          • avalpert

            Great, why don’t you tell me what degree of evidence would be required to demonstrate to you that the infallible teaching of the immaculate conception is wrong (not to mention unoriginal)? Short of going back in time to witness the very human conception itself, what do you need to be shown?

            When you say you did the research and checked the data – what research did you actually do to test that claim and what data did you check?

            I do agree, it makes it easier for people like you – doesn’t make it anything close to right but definitely makes it easy.

          • Whit Johnstone

            All Christians have access to “the testimony of the Apostles, … handed down throughout the intervening centuries to us today”, as written in the canon of Scripture. Anglicans like me, as well as the Eastern Orthodox and Lutherans are part of the physical apostolic succession as well. Granting that Christianity is true, what makes you certain that you have correctly interpreted the faith of the apostles? For one thing, in the apostolic age, priests and bishops could both marry as they wanted. On this issue the Anglican/Protestant/Orthodox practice accords with that of the Apostles, the Roman Catholic practice does not.

          • Randy Gritter

            This is why we need a pope and not just bishops. Bishops can claim apostolic succession. It does not make it so. The Anglicans claim is just false. The Eastern Orthodox claim is true. We would not know it without a pope. They would just be competing claims.

            As for married priests, we have them. We have a few in the Roman Catholic Church. It is more common in the Ukrainian Catholic Church and some other rites. The normal practice is to ordain celibate men to the priesthood. It is not a doctrine. It is just that the vocation of consecrated celibacy is a higher calling than the vocation of marriage so it makes sense that we should prefer to ordain them.

          • avalpert

            That’s right – I mean a Bishop can claim anything but a Pope elected by select Bishops that is how we know what is true…

        • Randy Gritter

          It is not silly if you believe in God. When the human mind is seen to be depressingly limited you do wonder. If we can’t know God but only know a bunch of opinions about God with various degrees of plausibility then you have to think that maybe God helps us out. As a good protestant I explored all the other options many times before considering that the Catholic church might be the way He helps us.

          Could the church be wrong? It is a very surprising wrongness if it is. As I dug into it it was so amazing. So simple and so complex. Defying all categories. Embracing all cultures. Surviving all scrutiny. Human yet holy. I guess I just became convinced it must a God thing. She must be THE God thing.

          • avalpert

            Maybe very surprising to you – i would be utterly shocked if the church were right.

            Frankly, even if a god exists, the leap to it caring one lick about humanity is a big enough jump to not only not be obvious but to me quite ludicrous. Certainly seems much more likely to have developed from humanities high sense of itself more than from a gods interest in the relatively tiny part of the universe that has existed for a relatively tiny part of existence.

          • Randy Gritter

            I was there once. As a protestant I was very shocked to find Catholicism was right! It is ludicrous that God should care for us. The biggest objection to Catholicism is that it is too good to be true. The biggest objection to atheism is that it is too awful to be true.

          • avalpert

            Just to be clear, I am not nor ever was a protestant either and am actually surprised that they wouldn’t think god cares for them.

            And for the record, something sounding too good or too awful to be true has no impact on its truthfulness. The biggest objection to Catholicism is not that it is too good to be true but that it isn’t in fact true, the medieval philosophical enterprise of attempting to force fit Greek models into existing religious frameworks (of christian, muslim and jewish varieties) doesn’t stand up to logical scrutiny and the Greek models of the world themselves don’t stand up to modern scientific scrutiny.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Anyone with a true investment in two-way communication will learn any language they need. Three-year-old children and their primary parents know this and learn the language, both verbal and non-verbal of each other. The child eventually learns the parental language. When in Rome….

  • Philip Q. Fillmore

    If you go to freerice.com, you can do vocabulary tests in French and donate food to hungry people at the same time.

    I’ve yet to meet an honest libertarian. Most of them only seem to care about guarding their money from taxation. If someone claims to want to protect freedom and then supports policies that destroy it, why should we take them at their word?

    • tedseeber

      I don’t know about that. I’ve met plenty of living people who do not believe in the right to life- and they seem perfectly at peace with their bigotry.

  • tedseeber

    I think a huge part of my problem is that I am Catholic first, which means I don’t fit into the common “Conservative, Progressive, Libertarian” groups. I’m socially conservative, fiscally liberal, and for forgiveness and agape above guilt and lust.

    I have NO political home in the United States- because like Augustine in Confessions, Truth has Found Me, and I will NOT change for political correctness.

  • Jenesaispas2

    Thanks, I hadn’t heard of Duolingo before, my french teacher told me about memrise which is quite good because it covers a lot of languages but it’s all flashcards.

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