Wisdom in the raw: best of the comments from the FM website

Summary: Intense bare-knuckle discussions of important topics brings out the occasional burst of raw wisdom. Here we harvest those from the comments section of the FM website. Please post in the comments your favorites and your reactions.

By Walt Kelly, for the first Earth Day in 1971

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Pogo: one of America’s greatest philosophers explains the challenge for our time
  3. How to reply to scientists that disagree with you about climate change
  4. Why do conservatives call Obama “Fearless Leader”?
  5. One of the best attacks on Obama
  6. The key to the reform of America
  7. Some best of thread winners
  8. See the future of comments on the FM website!

(1) Introduction

The FM website has 23 thousand comments, and they show its evolution. We started with the goal of presenting information and analysis about technical aspects of geopolitics: our wars, 4GW, history, military theory, and economics.  We believed that this would help people better understand the world, and the comment section would provide readers an opportunity to discuss things on the edge of the known — the borders of our data, theory — and differing values. We were naive.

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We want more debate!

The comments have some discussions of values. While expected, these were often horrifying.  Torture is a good thing. Unemployed people shouldn’t get unemployment insurance, food stamps, and medicareMass killing, taking no prisoners, would win bring victory in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But most comment threads discuss deeply-held beliefs contrary to the facts. We were winning in Afghanistan and Iraq. Torture worksKeynes advocated an unending diet of big fiscal deficits.  In early 2008 (6 months into the recession) people said the economy was fine (now the Instapundit’s jokes about the Retail Support Brigades saving the economy don’t look so funny). Muslims are outbreeding us, and will impose Sharia. On and on.

This led to discovery of America’s most serious problem: our inability to clearly see the world, driven by our susceptibility to propaganda. This makes us easily led, like sheep. Until fixed, somehow, reform seems impossible.

Since then the FM website has evolved as we’ve tried to learn from websites with successful comment sections. We’ll discusses these things on another day (there’s a hint at the below).

(2)  Pogo: one of America’s greatest philosophers

Walt Kelly drew this cartoon for the first Earth Day in 1971.  The words at the end — We have met the enemy and he is us — apply far more broadly than to just pollution. They describe the very essence of our political challenge, as I see it:   We the people have the responsibility to defend the Republic from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Nobody else.  Today our ignorance and apathy forms the greatest threat to its survival.

For more about this see America’s Most Dangerous Enemy.

(3)  How to reply to scientists that disagree with you about climate change

The 2nd most common rebuttal to posts citing scientists debating climate scientists (the subject of almost every post here about climate):  ignore the content and say “the world is warming”.  This rebuttal appears not just to posts that mention the two-century long warming (ie, most of them), but even to posts about the this warming .

It’s a natural response, changing the subject to something irrelevant in order to avoid cognitive dissonance.

The 3rd most common rebuttal: deny that climate scientists are climate scientists, as in this reply to a long analysis by Judith Curry:  “Judith Curry, not a climate scientist” (in fact she has a long and distinguished career in climate science; see her CV).  It’s a rule for true believers: Scientists are authorities — unless they disagree with climate change dogma; then they’re cranks.

This is the most interesting response, as it taps the long anti-science tradition in the West. It’s seen on both sides of the debate.  Look at the comments at the mass-market climate sceptic websites, like Watts Up With That: they’re often equally tribal.  Real scientists are those who agree with us.  This suggests that the worst casuality of the climate wars might be the prestige of science in America.

Another common response:  insults.  As in this reply to a post with excerpts from articles discussing climate science by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, ScienceDaily, and “US Joint Forces Command:  “Fabius Maximus is a troll. Ignore him. Please don’t feed trolls like Fabius Maximus”.  True believers flee from science (which is a process of conflict and resolution) like vampires from holy water.

The most common rebuttal:  horror. They regard anthropogenic climate change as dogma, and react to the discovery of a debate among scientists like children learning that their parents have sex.

For more about these reactions see:

Does he remind you of Obama?

(4)  Why do conservatives call Obama “Fearless Leader”?

If you know, please answer this in the comments.

That they find this a funny (or apt) label  illustrates a difference between the Right and Left in America. The Right seldom does political humor well, while the Left has raised it to an art form (on the other hand, the Left is politically impotent compared to the Right, IMO).

For example, “Fearless leader” doesn’t seem an effective label for Obama. It doesn’t relate to any actual characteristics (good or bad) that he has or claims to have. On the other hand, it’s a nice riff on Rocky and Bullwinkle.

(5)  One of the best attacks on Obama

A common mock at Obama by the Right says that he’s highly dependent on teleprompters.  It’s debated on YouTube by dueling videos showing him coping (or failing to cope) with teleprompter failures.

Is Obama in fact more dependent on teleprompters than other politicians? We are so easily manipulated that Presidents’ images often have little correspondence with reality, as we learn years or decades later. Kennedy was athletic while Ford was awkward; in fact Ford was in good shape for his age while JFK almost a basket case.

For the real story we turn to the Onion News Network: “Obama’s Home Teleprompter Malfunctions During Family Dinner“:

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(6)  The key to the reform of America

Who is responsible for America’s problems?  I believe the answer is right before us.  It’s the Man in the Mirror.

I’m Gonna Make A Change
For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right…

I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change

(7) Some best of thread winners

There are too many to list.  Here are some that work as stand-alones.

“General Screwtape would say that wars are won on the immoral/grand strategic level first … Obviously, the reason why Iraq was lost was because of not enough torture.”
—Rob Naardin to Poetic patriotic propaganda, suitable for humming while being stripped of your liberties

“I cringed when the old Tajik man told me; “I liked the Russians better than the Americans. The Russians built apartment blocks for us!”
— Sam Nomad to Mission Failure: Afghanistan

“The other issue to bear in mind here is that ex-military enlisted disproportionately make up the ranks of police today. With the massive militarization of civilian police, this creates a pincer movement in which the military becomes increasingly free of civilian control, while the police become so militarized that they operate effectively outside the law and with military weaponry.”
— Thomas Moore to More evidence that the military is slowly cutting itself off from civilian control

“If one posits, as many of us do, that the nation state as an institution is in terminal decline ( much as, for example, the Greek polis was in terminal decline during the 4th century BC ) then we should expect to see what we now are seeing. As nation states become less and less in sync with social realities, they will therefore exhibit various problems that with time will be both more frequent and more serious.It does not necessarily follow from the nationstate’s malaise that the the inhabitants of those states are in trouble – any more than, say, the inhabitants of Corinth in 300 BC were worse off than those in 400 BC. They just were no longer living in a polis.”
— Duncan Kinder to The unseen but perhaps decisive grand alignment of the nations!

“I think the American people are every bit as fixated on security as their French counterparts. The difference is that when the French feel insecure, they kill themselves; when the Americans feel insecure, they kill someone else, in a country far, far away.”
— Reynardine to a Question Time post

“An aside on American Exceptionalism: It has always amused me that the US is the only country in the CIA World Factbook that is noted as having a ‘strong democratic tradition’. Not even Switzerland has this and Switzerland is arguably the most democratic country in the world, with more political decisions having to go to referendum than anywhere else on Earth. … I first noticed this in sociology class in high school back in the early mid-nineties.”
— Rune to A parable of America today – subways here and around the world

“Oh, these pro-war arguments are most Christian. Ask any Native American.”
— Robert Hoskins to More Christmas Eve war advocacy – bombing while we sing

(8)  Now you can see the future of comments on the FM website!

Should the writing on the FM website improve (especially mine) by 5x, we might deserve comments almost as good as those to this post by Belle Waring at Crooked Timber.

We’re working on improvements to the FM website! Not just better forecasts, but actual changes to America. Changing not just tomorrow …
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15 thoughts on “Wisdom in the raw: best of the comments from the FM website

  • I think you are giving the Right too much credit for cleverness in the “Fearless Leader” comment. I’ve always thought it was a reference to North Korea’s habit of assigning nicknames to their leaders.

    On the same topic, I believe that the Left has begun to realize how powerless they are. The political humor of the old Soviet Union was fantastic because that was the only way people could express themselves. New Orleans reached a height of political humor at the Mardi GRAS after Katrina because the incompetence and corruption of many of their political leaders had become very exposed and there wasn’t anything they could do about it until the next election.

    Like

    • Yes, I also remember this originally starting as a reference to North Korea. In September 2009, Obama wanted to address all the nation’s school children. I suppose he told them something like “Stay in school. Say no to drugs.”

      Anyway, the Republicans were enraged and started comparing the speech to the alleged North Korean practice of having school children pledge allegiance to their “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong Il.
      Over time, I guess this title morphed from “Dear Leader” into “Fearless Leader”, maybe because of half memories of watching the cartoon Rock and Bullwinkle, where he was a recurring character.

      Like

    • Thanks for the history lesson!

      This is interesting, but totally insane. Obama tells kids to “work hard, stay in school” — and the GOP compares him to the monster runing North Korea, and the fascist ruler of Pottsvania? Can they get their followers to believe anything? Forecast: after they’ve consolidated power, at the 2024 GOP Convention President Ryan (nominated for a 2nd term) will have the delegates chant “Two legs bad, four legs good” — just for fun, because he can.

      For a summary and transcript of Obama’s speech on 8 Spetember 2009 see the Dept of Education website.
      .

      Like

    • And, 30 seconds later, before the first chant has stopped, he’ll change it to “four legs good, two legs better!” No-one will notice the difference.

      Like

  • Left Right, Right Left
    Man in the Mirror.

    I guess these all help to frame the situation for discussions. Valuable, I guess. But for my dollar I will venture over to Glenn Greenwald’s Place periodically as a reminder of how distorted the dominant culture has evolved in the last 40 years: “NBC’s war for fun and profit – A new reality show of soldiers and celebrities playing war games showcases our national religion: military worship“, Salon, 13 August 2012. This article correlates well with Moore’s comment above.

    You may not realize it but there was a depth and breadth of sanity here in which one could seek solace , that is gone.

    Breton

    Like

  • I get intense opposition in the comments to my theory that our inability to clearly see the world is one of our greatest problems, and that results from our susceptability (gulibility) to propaganda. The evidence surrounds us, but is perhaps to bleak for us to accept. Today’s example: “The Fiscal Facts of Life: Do Americans Understand Where Budget Deficits Come From?“, Larry Bartel (Prof, Political Science, Vanderbilt) at The Monkey Cage, 11 August 2012 — Excerpt:

    The strongest relationship, by far, was between people’s expectations about the budget deficit and their expectations about their own taxes. However, the direction of this relationship was precisely the opposite of what straightforward fiscal logic would suggest: people who expected higher taxes under Obama also expected a bigger budget deficit under Obama, other things being equal, while those who expected higher taxes under Romney also expected a bigger budget deficit under Romney. This peculiar association was strongest among people who were relatively uninformed about politics; but it was easily the most important single determinant of deficit expectations even among people with above-average levels of political information.

    Jonathan Bernstein explains the key finding:

    If you think that your taxes will be lower, then you also think that the deficit will be lower. Huh?

    It makes little sense, of course, if you think that budget deficits are the mathematical difference between federal government revenues and disbursements.

    However, if you think of deficits as “economic bad stuff”, then it makes perfect sense. Paying less taxes means less economic bad stuff, and therefore smaller “deficits.” It also makes sense then that there’s a correlation between economic growth and smaller deficits. Of course, that works using the real definition of deficits, too, since economic growth does in fact increase government revenues and therefore lowers deficits.

    But Bartels also finds only weak correlations between spending and deficits, which makes more sense under the “economic bad stuff” definition — since public opinion in general is fairly split over whether government spending is a good or bad thing. The only bit which doesn’t seem to work as well is that Bartels reports a somewhat higher association between Medicare and Social Security spending and deficits than between either domestic or defense spending and deficits, given that presumably Medicare and Social Security spending are more popular (although on the other hand, it doesn’t really make sense that respondents would differentiate at all between different types of spending and the deficit).

    It’s taken decades of intensive propaganda to make us this dumb. Until we see the world more clearly, I doubt that we can regain a high degree of self-government. Until we can see more clearly, more self-government might be bad for America.

    Like

    • “However, if you think of deficits as “economic bad stuff”, then it makes perfect sense”

      I think this a perfect summary.

      Anecdotally, I’ve been asked a few times by friends and family to explain certain macroeconomic term they heard on the news, “federal budget deficit” among them.

      I say something like “The government in DC spent a lot of money on wars and on stimulus, on Medicare, social security, and the military. It has spent more on all that stuff than what everybody paid in taxes. When the government spends more than it gets, that’s the deficit.” At that point, their eyes glaze over and they say something like “and that’s bad, right?”

      Like

    • It also has taken decades of attacks on public education. I would assert that the prospect of seeing the world more clearly is at best dim. According to the World Values Survey, over four waves of the survey, 83% of 6747 people surveyed consider themselves religious. As a population we are a long way from thinking critically. Haven’t you heard? The earth is only a few thousand years old according to the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

      Source: World Values Studies Online Analysis — The World Values Survey is organised as a network of social scientists coordinated by a central body, the World Values Survey Association.

      Like

  • “We the people have the responsibility to defend the Republic from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Nobody else. Today our ignorance and apathy forms the greatest threat to its survival.”

    I used to find the movie “Idiocracy” funny, but after observing the general lack of interest in continued learning that I see in people I associate with on a daily basis the movie does not make me laugh as much any more.

    I work in IT and the simple lack of interest in even Googling an answer to help in troubleshooting is disturbing. My colleagues are, to a more than moderate degree, unwilling to put out the effort to research answers. They are however more than willing to have someone else do it for them.

    My opinion is that we, as a society, have it too easy and are way too used to having things handed to us by government. I am slowly developing Luddite tendencies and moving to self-sufficiency.

    Like

  • In my heart I cannot give up on the United States. At least, the United States that I learned of as a child; as it was conceived by the founders. I believe I am just morning the passing of our Constitution.

    I love the FM site since it does give hope for something new. I am not abdicating my citizenship in the US just trying to find a place I feel comfortable with in the changes going on around me.

    Like

  • FM: “I understand all too well. For more about this please read Should we despair, giving up on America?”

    Very appropo. Good stuff. Thx

    Breton

    Like

  • Thanks FM for giving me a best of thread winner.

    FWIW, I read Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching before I ever read anything by Sun Tzu or Colonel John Boyd. So I know both ripped off ideas from him. The whole GS/moral level of warfare of Sun Tzu and John Boyd is based on Lao Tzu. ie war is immoral, but conflict is not always avoidable; therefore win as quickly and as morally as possible.

    From an org theory and org culture perspective, bureaucracy can’t win on the GS/moral level of warfare today. Too out of date.

    Me, I’m almost as socialist and almost as libertarian as the Dalai Lama. For me, the fundamental question is: Does the state exist to serve the individual or does the individual exist to serve the state?

    Like

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