Friday, October 5, 2018

A Devastating Blow to Intellectual Humility

Uh, humbly?

Hey la hey la my Brooksie's back! From his "book leave", meaning there's apparently a book coming from him that will be about some subject or other, but for now he's leaping back into action, because, folks, there's a war on ("A Complete National Disgrace"):
Over the past few years, hundreds of organizations and thousands of people (myself included) have mobilized to reduce political polarization, encourage civil dialogue and heal national divisions.
Mobilized! It's a war on political polarization, fought by the legions of Brooks?
The first test case for our movement was the Kavanaugh hearings. It’s clear that at least so far our work is a complete failure. Sixty-nine percent of Americans in one poll called the hearings a “national disgrace,” and the only shocking thing is that there are 31 percent who don’t agree.
You see, the Polarized are united in an overwhelming majority. The beleaguered un-Polarized, who don't think the hearings are a national disgrace, teeter on the brink of extinction!

Or is it the other way around? Because Brooks himself certainly thinks something is a national disgrace—that's his headline ("" in the URL). If he's in the majority what's he complaining about?

We might also ask how this was the "first test case" for the un-Polarized forces. Are we to understand that they've been in camp, "over the past few years", training, and only just deployed in recent weeks? Where to, exactly? Which way is the front?

I can't tell you exactly, but Brooks, who just arrived, has moved his italics into a forward position, always a sign of an aggressive posture:
What we saw in these hearings was the unvarnished tribalization of national life. At the heart of the hearings were two dueling narratives, one from Christine Blasey Ford and one from Brett Kavanaugh. These narratives were about what did or did not happen at a party 36 years ago. There was nothing particularly ideological about the narratives, nothing that touched on capitalism, immigration or any of the other great disputes of national life.
And everybody knows when you don't have your tribalization varnished it's virtually impossible to keep it clean.

I have to say that to me this isn't a very good summary of what happened in the last hearing, in the first place in that there was only one narrative about a party 36 years ago, Blasey Ford's. Kavanaugh offered an alibi: none of this could have happened, because he didn't in the nature of things know Holton-Arms girls, never drank to excess, never attended small drinking gatherings in other kids' houses, never drank on weeknights, and was of legal age to drink when he did, and was too busy working his tail off to get into Yale, and because he was many years older when he first had sexual intercourse (presumably without Mark Judge in the room), and because the word "boof" in his teen slang meant "fart" (as in the yearbook inscription "Judge, have you boofed yet?"—a common preoccupation of young men who haven't yet experienced flatulence), all of which turned out to be false, irrelevant, or both.

And while there may have been nothing "ideological" in the confrontation of narrative and alibi, there were a couple of pretty important issues at stake, in a concentrated form. One being that of truthfulness, which had already been growing, through the earlier hearings, as Kavanaugh evaded and dissembled his way through not only the usual questions of how he stood on the subject of various historical Supreme Court decisions but also through a remarkable line of evidence suggesting that he'd earned his living as a perfervid, unscrupulous, and amazingly dirty-minded political hatchetman from 1993 to 2006, from working to put Bill Clinton out of office by any means fair or foul he could come up with to sneaking far-right ideologues into judicial office. And the other being whether women are going to be heard respectfully by our national institutions.

Neither of which Brooks displays any interest in.
These hearings were also a devastating blow to intellectual humility. At the heart of this case is a mystery: What happened at that party 36 years ago? There is no corroborating evidence either way. So the crucial questions are: How do we sit with this uncertainty? How do we weigh the two contradictory testimonies? How do we measure these testimonies when all of cognitive science tells us that human beings are really bad at spotting falsehood? Should a person’s adult life be defined by something he did in high school?
Well, no, there's a good deal of corroboration one way, in the history of Blasey Ford talking about it over the past six years, and in the failure of Kavanaugh's alibi,  and in his extraordinary paranoid outburst and trolling behavior with the Senate questioners, and otherwise ducking of legitimate questions, all which would certainly be regarded as as demonstrating a consciousness of guilt in ordinary circumstances, and then

I don't think, again, that a person's adult life should be defined by something he did in high school, but I think his ability to tell the truth to a Senate committee at the age he's at now is pretty important, and either he can do it or he can't. I don't see any value in a "centrist" position on this, like maybe he can tell a little bit of truth when the question is, as it is here (and wasn't in the case of Bill Clinton's blow job) whether he committed a serious crime and sentenced a young woman to decades of suffering.

If there's a role for "intellectual humility" to play in all this, and I'm sure there is, there's a political party representing it—Democrats, saying "We don't know yet, we need to be further informed, the FBI needs to follow through all the leads and clarify the evidence before we can make up our minds." And a devastating blow dealt to it this week, perhaps, by Senators Grassley and Hatch and Graham and McConnell and the babysitters in the White House, in preventing the FBI from doing this and in hiding the evidence the FBI was allowed to gather in a setting of the utmost secrecy. But that's not what Brooks was talking about, right? It's not both sides.

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