Thursday, October 21, 2010

Missing the mensching for the trees…


I don't think he's read the posts I have here about our conversation, but after I wrote a conciliatory email to him apologizing if my words had stung him and asking to please just drop the issue, my friend wrote to me in Gmail chat: "i still feel compulsive to have myself explained".

Forks, truer wards have never bespoken.

I must report, however, that my days as a blogger and Christian are surely numbered, since his parting words have called me out from darkness to light: "i don't know with whom or what i should be frustrated with… [one-minute pause] you or the years of brainwashing at church".

And there was much sighing in the land. Something about "with friends like these…."]


I recently posted commentary about an online conversation I had with a friend.

My friend has replied. Sigh.

You are not getting what I said. I guess I am gonna have to explain it to you when we meet.

I decided to have a little fun:

Yassuh, please do set me on yourn knee so's to he'p me unnnastand yaw highfalutin' logic right here. ;) I'll listen to what you have to say, but "there's no there there," at least based on how you've mounted your position so far.

Let me make this as simple as a Playdoh kit:

The best defense (x:B) is a good offense (A:y) = It is best for A to do y in order to do x against B.

The best way to start talking (A:x) is to shut up (A:y) = It is best for A to do y in order to do x.

There are two agents in the football slogan; there's only one in yours. Your disanalogy simply does not map.

The second mock slogan of yours is just as incoherent.

"The best way to stop your opponents from scoring is to stop them from scoring." =/= "The best way to prevent your points from being lesser than your opponent's is to score more points than your opponent."

Bark up a different tree, dude. You're bewitching yourself with your own quixotic crusade against the bewitchment of language.

While I was typing my reply, he added a further rebuttal:

[Quoting me:] ‎"Coaches call certain "offensive" plays in order to score points, points which *function as* a defensive means against the opponent's offensive plays."

Pure bulls[...]t... it's almost like saying I am shooting someone dead "in advance" as a "preemptive strike", therefore that person whom I shot dead won't be a potential harm to me in the future. And then I testify in court that it was merely self-defense.

Offensive plays are offensive plays. Defense is defense. You accuse me of posting a heap of pretensious, sophistical prose?! What the f is that supposed to mean, dude? I am illustrating points. And it looks like you didn't grasp any of it.

I was feeling masochistic, so I replied:

It depends on how close in time the shot and my victim's action occur. Ten years apart, no. Ten seconds apart, yes. The football slogan swings both ways: it's a question of strategy within the span of a game. In chess, by analogy, each move can be made as an offensive move, until the opponent's offenses require a defensive sidestep. Or the player can mount a primarily defensive game and then strike offensively when the opponent is weakened. In football, what is technically an offensive move can be called with the coach's consciousness that it functions in a larger defensive strategy. Your confusion is to think I am saying that the best offensive *play* is identical to a good defensive *play*. I am talking about strategy, not tactics.

The reason I called your reply a) pretentious and b) sophistical is because a) reading it was like breathing from a large jar of rice vinegar: the density of thesaurus-derived verbiage made me squint and cough; and b) you used a couple hundred words to make the same incoherent point you had expressed in a couple dozen.

By now, it seems, my friend was so swollen with neo-Wittgensteinian angst that he couldn't resist confronting me in Gmail chat and the following is some of the gut-wrenching results:

FRIEND: i don't know what u don't get about it
when there are five around me who do

ME: cool, argument from consensus

F: no
i am asking u

M: having 5 friends confused in the same way doesn't help the failure of your disanalogy in this instance

F: u gotta cut the classical nonsense when we talk about these issues
i am not saying just because people agree with me, it's true
unlike religion ;)
i just don't know what u don't get about it

M: no, you're saying your point is true because you can't see beyond the lexical level to the semantic

F: ahh
now, i see

I: i've already pointed how the logical form doesn't map

F: u see what i have always set out to do was never for the purpose of setting the standard for expression
u see the expression "the best defense is good offense" is not "wrong"
it's "silly"
u r the one who is somewhat stuck back in the old days of Wittgenstein ONLY WHEN it comes to issues like this

[His point here to say I am still taking a "Tractarian" approach to Wittgenstein, whereas he is drawing more on the "later Wittgenstein" of the Philosophical Investigations. In his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Wittgenstein argued that all language has a logical form, corresponding to the logical form of the reality to which it refers, and that this basic formality can be shown but not said. Over the course of the next decades, Wittgenstein retracted this extreme position in favor of treating language less like a logical apparatus and more like a "game." This point will be significant later.]

M: dude, just because you can't understand how coaches and players use an expression in their own world doesn't mean you need to go on and on trying to justify your incomprehension
- Zitierten Text anzeigen -

F: that's no the problem
i do understand
it's stupid

M: but is it meaningless?

F: u talk about ends

M: is the expression meaningless?

F: one can get the same ends by instructing the players play by play with clear def
it's not meaningless
kinda like how bad English and bad Chinese can somehow still be understood

M: what is silly about a soldier saying the best way to stop his enemy is by shooting him?

F: the question is the "intelligence" of the languages we use
what is silly about a guy who does the same to another guy can call it "self defense"?

M: or a general to say the best way to protect his troops so they can advance the front is by blasting away at the enemy's frontline?
we're talking about two teams expressly out to defeat each other
not some random pack of people standing on a field who get bum rushed by NFL players
playing aggressively is just how some coaches like to protect their own team's interests
nothing silly about that

F: if that's the case
it should follow that there is no such thing is murder
everyone is killing to prevent oneself from being killed
offense is offense
defense is defense

M: a is a
b is b
just start using e-prime

[LINK, heheh] Since it may seem I am the pot calling the kettle black by posting the minutiae of what is already a very lilliputian debate, I want to explain why this issue is as important to me as it apparently is. I feel my friend is engaging in the worst kind of sophistry, the kind of verbal contortions that give dialectical reasoning a very bad name. I also think it is a pristine example of how "linguistic philosophy" can stumble into rabbit holes by its own desire to outsmart others; and, as I noted above, that's E-Prime all over.

This escapade also provides an opportunity to look at how dishonest "logical" people––self-styled rationalists, perhaps––can sometimes be about what their emphasis on logic means for them. Recall my friend's objection that I am "stuck back in the old days of Wittgenstein … [when] it comes to issues like this". Presumably, he is objecting that I am laying too much emphasis on the logical form of the expressions under debate, rather than paying enough attention to the silliness of the football slogan in the language game called sports. Yet it was he who opened the issue by rhetorically objecting that, "If the best defense is really just good offense…, does the logic follow that the best way to shut up is to start talking? … [T]his is exactly as meaningful as saying, "the best way to stop your opponents from scoring is to stop them from scoring!" Initially he objected to the illogicality of the football slogan, but when I demonstrated that his disanalogy fails––by failing to match the slogan in logical form––, he rebutted that I was paying too much attention to logical form. Quite a convenient play on his part. This is logicalism with soiled underwear.

It may be one of the worst consequences of Wittgenstein's impact––an impact which I feel has been misrepresented in surprising ways, and which I greatly respect as far as I can swallow it––is that many thinkers seem so willing nowadays to ignore logic. Presumably, in the wake of "the later Wittgenstein," saying something meaningful––or, being "authentic"––frees one from having to say something logical, and accusing something or someone of silliness exempts one from having to make logical criticisms. My friend is a case in point. He first insinuates that the slogan is meaningless, but, when pressed on the issue, admits it is meaningful and he understands it, adverting now to a gripe about how "silly" the slogan is. Not that his disanalogies have shown the logical flaw or flaws in the slogan; presumably, it suffices merely to register his personal distaste for the slogan as a case of being "slick."

Let us, then, examine the charge of silliness. My friend objects that the slogan is silly because it identifies two opposite notions, offense and defense. For him, saying, " [i] The best defense is a good offense," is as silly as saying, " [ii] The best way to stay home is by going outside," or, " [iii] The best way to go up is by going down." If we were obliged to stay at the purely abstract, lexical level of meaning, this would true and the slogan would be utter nonsense. Fortunately, however, since we have the ability to "mensch" our words into meaningful contexts of association and analogy, we can make sense of all of these expressions, if there is a possible context in which they might be used. First consider [ii]: Suppose my landlord told me the secret police were coming to raid the building, and were going to arrest me if they found me in my apartment. If I want to keep my apartment and domestic life, I need to leave and hide out somewhere. Hence, "The best way to stay [here in the long run] is by going outside [for now]." Next consider [iii]: Suppose I got arrested but eventually become friends with an old-timer in the prison who has been digging an escape tunnel for decades. Past escapees have tried to climb the fence or work their way out through the overhead air ducts. But his tunnel goes beneath all the prison's infrastructure and alarms, like a parabolic tube running from his cell down into the soil and then up again into the forest hundreds of yards beyond the prison. He tells me to break out with him while I still have a chance, but I am afraid of a tunnel collapse, or a flood, etc. He reassures me, "The best way to go [back] up [to freedom on the outside] is by going down [the tunnel]." These accounts may seem contrived, but they make the point that meaning is use in context, not in a dictionary, and thus show how the football slogan can and does make sense given a sensible account of its proper usage-context.

(Besides, if Wikipedia says it's a useful adage, it must be true!)

Having come this far along the path of alleged silliness, let us see how my friend's position fares. For him, "Offense is offense and defense is defense," and the slogan is as trivially (tautologically) true as saying, "The best way to stop an opponent from scoring is by stopping him from scoring." A reconstructed form of the slogan would, therefore, be, "The best offense is a very good offense" (and, of course, "The best defense is a very good defense"). It would further be true that "The best team has the best offense," or "The best team has the best defense," or, ideally, "The best team has the best offense and the best defense." This however amounts to saying that "The best team is the best team," which, while it may not be silly, in a ticklish way, it certainly lacks the musical persuasiveness and counterintuitive effectiveness of the original slogan. I wouldn't enjoy paying a doctor who told me, "The best way to improve your health is by improving your health." That would be silly. A doctor, on the other hand, who told me, "The best way to be healthy is by keeping away from toxic substances in small amounts and acceptable nutrients in excessive amounts," and then gave me particular tactics for applying his strategy, he'd get my money.

As an aside––though it relates to a line of research I would like to develop into a long essay or possibly even a book––, am I the only one who feels I am debating someone with autism? Many autistic people have great difficulty (by their own admission) understanding jokes, puns, poetry, metaphors, and riddles, because their grasp of language is unfailingly literal. An autistic person, for example, upon hearing, "The best way to a man's heart is through his stomach," might in all likelihood object, "Actually, it's through his ribcage," only he wouldn't see how his objection is a punchline. The point is that some hyper-logical thinkers––or, at least, some people who claim they strive to be logical above all else––suffer from the same cognitive deficits as autistic people do. The fundamental problem is an inability or unwillingness to invoke analogy as a key not only to language but also to reality. This is why I consider atheists and materialists to be "philosophically autistic" (e.g. as dramatized in this post). For them, it is illegitmate to see nature as a sign, icon, or analogy for God's existence, power, and glory, since "nature is nature" and "God is God," and ne'er the twain shall meet. Just as autists "simply can't see" how an abstract painting is a crowded street, or how a leitmotif is a duck, and how, in turn, a duck is a lush, so atheists "simply can't see" how a strong complex of rational arguments, transcendental longings and clues vouched for by the majority of humanity, a dead man on a Cross, an offering of Bread and Wine, or anything else is God (albeit 'is' God in varyingly analogical ways).

As I noted before in my initial lament, E-Prime is a defective attempt at discourse in so far as it rejects or minimizes analogy in language and reality. Korzybski said something along the following lines, "Say whatever you will about a pencil, but don't say it is a 'pencil'!" Korzybski objected to the copulative "is" as a root of many logical evils. For example, why say, "The heart is a lonely hunter" when you could instead say something more precise? Or why try saying that at all, and not simply admit the idea is incoherent? Korzybski's problem, or at least the position of his more extreme disciple, is (!) that his position ignores how the analogy of being shapes the analogical dimensions of language. A thing is both itself and an analogy for something else, indeed, an analogy for many things, depending how we refract it through the prism of analogia entis. My friend's objection is just as defective, and is but an oblique paraphrase of Korzybski: "Say whatever you will about offense, but don't say it is 'defense'!" If reality is not analogical, then offense is, and can only be, offense. Since, however, reality is analogical, we can understand how offense can both be offense, in itself, and be defense, on a higher analogical plane. We can see this, I mean, if we don't suffer from metaphysical autism.

The final reason I have spent this much time on this logical whitewash, is because I have a strong hunch that my friend is so passionate about this point because he feels it will secure a larger (liberal) victory in the debate about, say, the death penalty, or abortion, perhaps. If "offense is offense and defense is defense," then the death penalty is equivalent to cold-blooded murder: it's an act of offense, not defense. Conversely, if defense is defense is defense, then abortion is not murder, since it is merely a defensive act on the part of a female body. To say that I find this kind of argumentation grotesque is but a compact and oblique way of saying that I value the things the argumentation denigrates, namely, the good of the larger human social order and the inherent rights of the fetal body.


Crude said...

If "offense is offense and defense is defense," then the death penalty is equivalent to cold-blooded murder: it's an act of offense, not defense. Conversely, if defense is defense is defense, then abortion is not murder, since it is merely a defensive act on the part of a female body. To say that I find this kind of argumentation grotesque is but a compact and oblique way of saying that I value the things the argumentation denigrates, namely, the good of the larger human social order and the inherent rights of the fetal body.

I don't see how it could secure much of anything like that, since it would just kick open the door to defining offense and defense, or defining what counts as offense or what as defense. If ending a life is ending a life and the fetus is alive, it's killing. That's the fun of sophistry - it never, ever ends.

But yes. Context is important, as is analogy. I wonder if any of this comes down to some people being easily confused, and damnit, they don't LIKE to be confused so anything they hear that's confusing must somehow be wrong or bad.

And I have to admit, as someone who has foolishly gotten into far too many internet debates, I've noticed a surprising portion of atheists who just don't get analogy, or have trouble grasping concepts that go beyond the very simple. It took me a while to realize that for many atheists, 'Some bearded man in the sky' is not merely a derisive term for God - it is to them God, literally described. Body and beard and being in the sky and all. And he's the only thing God could ever be! Try to explain the idea of pure actuality, or Logos, or The One, or the like to them and you get nowhere. It's all the Bearded Man in the Sky to them, and all the other words are just other ways of saying Bearded Man in the Sky. And any theist who denies that God is a Bearded Man in the Sky is just trying to pull a fast one because Bearded Man in the Sky is the only option.

(I'm sure there are atheists who do get that no, BMitS is not what most theists, even in the pews, mean by God. But man, just getting the inkling that there was a sizable number who DO think in terms of a BMitS was an eye-opener for me.)

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Sadly enough, my friend is a former Christian. He got metaphysical myopia, I guess.

I was also going to mention in this post how I think Protestants have a kind of theological autism, but that was too much to fit in.

The Beard in the Sky Syndrome surely is what accounts for the mass appeal of the Flying Spaghetti Monster 'argument'. Sigh.

Crude said...

On the bright side, I hardly ever see the FSM anymore. I think it dawned on people that no, it's actually not a good 'argument' at all once you actually examine it. It had currency for humor, but humor gets old fast.