Curb Your Dogma

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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47 Responses

  1. Just John says:

    I’ve been a lurker here for a long time — hope that’s a flattering to all of you as it should be — and I’d just like to say that I’m glad this has been said, and said so thoroughly.Report

    • RTod in reply to Just John says:

      Just John:

      I just said I below I wasn’t going to add comments here, but I’m already going back on that to say this: Please keep commenting.

      (Also, thanks.)Report

  2. Beautiful, and appropriate RTod. I wish I had been more interested in taking this advice, especially since it was not long ago that I was offering similar advice myself.Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    After the whole Loughner incident, I told myself “You know what, the next time this happens, I’m just going to check out for a while.” I should have done that. Philosophically, nothing good comes from a debate like this. Politically, though, there are reasons for each side to do it. I know people who still think that Loughner was a Tea Partier because that was the initial take.

    I don’t know if it will happen here, but it sure isn’t uncommon that I get into these debates and later realize that I was working off very incomplete information and the time and distance required for a more clear-eyed assessment.Report

  4. greginak says:

    Good post. I’ve commented a lot less here over the last few months because to many of the threads just turn into dueling dogmatists who are sure they are so correct they don’t need to learn from anybody else or even accept they may not have all the answers. Especially after traumatic events pulling up a big frothy mug of STFU is often the best option.Report

  5. Christopher Carr says:

    I do think these incidents are outliers and always have been, and we see them more clearly now than we ever did before because we have cameras pointed at everything and we’re all hooked up to our visual interface to the cybernetic world-ether twelve hours a day.

    I wrote about the Loughner incident a while back ( that at times, it seems like we may have even summoned the monster ourselves, but then we must realize that further destruction comes when the rational controls that order our existence slacken.Report

  6. James Cameron says:

    I know I’m jumping into boiling water by saying this, but it bothered me about your earlier post too, so I’ll post it here.

    I see what you say are the most common responses are against pragmatism, and I don’t think that really cuts to the heart of the problem for most people. Saying that you are pragmatic and ideologues are (for lack of a better word) stupid is not only insulting to anyone who does have deep, dogmatic convictions, you’re attacking something that’s vital to their identity. A persons identity is dependent on their chosen community and chosen dogma. People understand Us vs Them, it’s been with us forever. By rejecting it, you’re deliberately setting yourself up as a permenant Other.

    It’s sort of related to the people who call themselves rational (if anyone reads Less Wrong, they had a discussion about this recently). When people say they are rational, I instinctively think “Oh, so you’re rational and I’m not. Not only that, you have no social skills. You are not Us.” Now, I actively try to fight against this urge, but it’s still an instinct. And that usually goes with a lot of labels.

    Humans are social creatures, and culture is our language just as much as anything spoken or written down. For me, at least, when you say your a pragmatist, for a lot of people you jump into the stereotype category I described and people don’t bother talking with you, because in a sense you just said you refused to talk to them.

    Speaking of humans as social creatures, is this reaction just an indicator of my deep moral failings, or have other people felt this way too? And by the way, let me also say that I generally agree that pragmatism is the correct response and dogma is usually bad.Report

    • James Cameron in reply to James Cameron says:

      Sorry to double post, but I was worried about my internet connection. The reason why I didn’t comment on this current issue is jumping into anything emotional means people are scared and so instinctively gravitate toward their communities to defend them. No one can talk to the Other in a situation like that. You restrain yourself, make sure your community is safe, wait for tempers to die down, and then try to communicate, when there’s less chance for a (for lack of a better word) translation error.Report

  7. greginak says:

    Another way in which these kind of incidents twist debate in odd ways has to do with blind luck. Last MLK day a nasty nasty bomb was planted in Spokane but was found by some gov workers. The MLK parade was routed around it and the bomb was defused. If, by sheer good luck, the bomb hadn’t been discovered we would have had a mass killing of dozens of AfAm citizens by a racist scumbag. But that incident fades into the background while, tragically, this douche in Norway was successful. If we are going to try to have a debate about mass violence and terrorism incidents like in Spokane are just as much part of the debate as Norway.Report

    • tom van dyke in reply to greginak says:

      And John Muhammad shooting up the white people? None of it enters into the debate except as grist for the mill. Nuts happen. Mercy.

      John Allen Muhammad’s goal in Phase One was to kill 6 white people a day for 30 days (180 per month). Malvo went on to describe how Phase One did not go as planned due to heavy traffic and the lack of a clear shot and/or getaway at different locations.

      Phase Two was meant to be moved up to Baltimore. Malvo described how this phase was close to being implemented, but never was carried out. Phase Two would begin with the killing of a pregnant woman with a shot to the abdomen. The next step would have been to shoot and kill a Baltimore City police officer. Then, at the officer’s funeral, they were to detonate several improvised explosive devices complete with shrapnel. These explosives were intended to kill a large number of officers, since many of them would be at a comrade’s funeral.

      Phase Three was to take place very shortly after, if not during, Phase Two. The third phase was to extort several million dollars from the United States government. This money would be used to finance a larger plan to travel north into Canada, stopping along the way in YMCAs and orphanages recruiting other impressionable young boys with no parents or guidance. John Allen Muhammad thought he could act as their father figure as he did with Lee Boyd Malvo. Once he recruited a large number of young boys and made his way up to Canada, he would begin their training. Malvo described how Muhammad allegedly intended to train the youths with weapons. After their training was complete, Muhammad would send them out across the United States to carry out mass shootings in many different cities, just as he had done in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

      Sounds quite logical.Report

      • greginak in reply to tom van dyke says:

        thanks for obeying the iron law of intertoob debate that mentioning one racist fuckwad requires the immediate noting of a crime by a muslim.Report

        • tom van dyke in reply to greginak says:

          You missed the point, Mr. Gregniak. John Muhammad has no meaning or significance either. That’s my disagreement with your comment and with making everything grist for the mill.

          John Muhammad specifically targeted whites. He was [ex-?] Nation of Islam. So what? Until Farrakhan approves or calls for people to follow in those footsteps, there’s no there there. Guy was a nut.Report

      • I’m hesitant to mention this because it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to discuss in this way, but something about this account doesn’t sound right to me, Tom. John Allen Muhammed’s killing spree involved him killing or nearly killing a number of non-white victims, including several black Americans.

        JAM’s motive has never been explained to my satisfaction, frankly, and Malvo’s explanations have always been so erratic that I have a hard time putting much stock in them one way or another.Report

        • Could be John Muhammad didn’t mind killing blacks, MT. I dunno either. But the cold-bloodness of his plan [Phases One, Two, Three] has a lot in common with the Norwegian. And after hearing McVeigh inveighed 1000 times, John Muhammad deserves a mention.

          As noted prev, the particular ideologies that these fellows’ diseased minds wrap around are not inherently significant. It’s always something.Report

  8. tom van dyke says:

    Ace, RT.

    “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.”
    —Benjamin Franklin

    People say believe half of what you see, son
    And none of what you hear

    —Marvin Gaye

    In the present epistemological crisis, everything we hear is through the grapevine, seldom the horse’s mouth.

    As for “ideology,” I’m still struggling with its use as a pejorative, as it seems it’s synonymous with “principles,” a term of approbation.

    There is no conflict between being principled and pragmatic. Some call it wisdom.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to tom van dyke says:

      I don’t think they’re synonymous exactly. Let’s think of principles as the guideposts on a path that keep you going in the direction you want to go. Ideology would be more like concrete walls all around the path.

      Lord, I respond to TVD’s comments constantly! It’s not a vendetta or anything- I just find your musings interesting and they usually lead me to muse further.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Oh, Rufus, the difference between vendetta and good faith replies is crystal clear to all.

        I accept yr distinction between “ideology” and principles, but again it seems that one is a term of disapproval and the other, one of praise. We admire folks who stick by their principles, despise those who are blinded by their ideology.

        But as always, I’m gratified by yr interest. Good thing they didn’t make me a contributor or I’d have no free time atall.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

          Tom, how bout this: the resistance to allowing the term ‘ideology’ to take on negative connotations is a form of ideological commitment.Report

          • Not by me, Mr. Stillwater. I linked to its etymology. But I think it’s used more as a cudgel than an instrument of clarity.

            As for your own argument, I again find it more useful as cudgel, not clarity. “Pragmatism,” standing alone, seems to me an abjuration of principle, and I don’t find that very attractive. We could say that that principle without pragmatism is ideology, but again, I’d just call that a lack of wisdom.Report

  9. Stillwater says:

    RTod, I’d like to compliment this post, but I can’t: it just sounds like so much ‘both sides do it’ accusations and that there is a neutral, non-ideological pov which is above that judgment which people ought to embrace. The problem here is epistemic: everyone thinks their political beliefs, or ideological beliefs if they have them, are entirely obvious and confirmed by evidence and experience. This is usually reflected by the emotional and dialectical commitment they make to them (eg., ideologues deny countervailing evidence and exhibit strong convictions; others accept their own uncertainty and offer tentative suggestions or conclusions). But in political debates, there is no ‘view from nowhere’ so to speak.

    I’ve tried to articulate this before (I’ll try again), but if you are in a discussion with an ideologue and offer a pragmatic solution or view of a problem, the ideologue will attribute to you (almost of necessity) an ideology and attribute your suggestion/solution as evidence of that ideological identity. Furthermore, there is nothing you can say in that moment which will compel the ideologue to actually believe your assertion that ‘no, I’m not ideological, I’m pragmatic!’

    The problem with ideological political positions and other types of thinking and decision-making is that it closes off the one thing which ought to be a necessary feature of any rational person’s belief structure: evidence. Actual, real, fact-of-the-matter evidence. Insofar as unbiased evidence (you know, the neutral kind!) is permitted to shape people’s views, there is hope for humanity and political progress. Without this, not so much.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

      if you are in a discussion with an ideologue and offer a pragmatic solution or view of a problem, the ideologue will attribute to you (almost of necessity) an ideology and attribute your suggestion/solution as evidence of that ideological identity.

      Which is how I get tarred on the same blog from time to time as a typical liberal, a dangerous conservative, and a sniveling Broderist.

      Politics is the mind-killer. I like it here at LOOG because it’s a place where normally, one can get away from politics and talk about either theory or policy without having to carry water for either Team Red or Team Blue. At least, as far as most of the commentariat is concerned. When something emotional like the Norway shootings happens, though, it’s easy for people to allow their intellectual structures to collapse for a time.

      I’ve come to think it’s better to wait out the event and offer calm reflection than to immediately jump into the fray, especially when the facts of the case emerge in a confused fashion as they often do in the hours and days after a crisis (and my restraint has been aided in this iteration of that cycle by an unusually heavy professional schedule in meatworld).Report

      • Once partisanship infects my other haunts, a history blog and a philosophy blog, all is lost, and otherwise reasonable people become quite unreasonable and intemperate. The LOOG leans more to the abstract [principles? political philosophy? “ideology?” What’s the difference again?], but current events are unavoidable.

        All in all, the adults do a fine job of it, and they know who they are.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Burt Likko says:


        Seriously, though, I know most of us agree with some group enough to call ourselves Conservative, Liberal, Libertarian, Socialist, Coke, or Pepsi; but the honest truth is that you can pretty much pull off being 100% liberal or 100% conservative or 100% anything when you’re about 15 years old, if then. By the time you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or beyond, it’s really hard not to be a little bit conservative about some things or a wee bit liberal when it comes to some other things or not entirely libertarian in certain circumstances. Every now and then I meet someone my age who really seems to be 100% liberal or 100% conservative and I don’t get the sense that they’re well-balanced.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Which is how I get tarred on the same blog from time to time as a typical liberal, a dangerous conservative, and a sniveling Broderist.

        Exactly. Like the linked article says “Arguments are soldiers,” and when you hit someone with a soldier, they think you’re an Enemy rather than a Person who may be merely trying to get them and others to think with more care. (And I’m certainly not implying I always hold myself to that standard!)

        Personally, I’ve come to believe that the trajectory of political discourse is increasingly anti-realist. Facts and evidence not only seem to matter less and less as the days go by, but there is an increasing hostility to them. Rove, I think, made an insightful comment about this: “You have your facts, I have mine”. Of course, that statement is absurd, and completely irrational. But too many people accept that sentiment, or description, of the role of evidence in political decision-making. Even facts are just soldiers to be met with resistance.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Stillwater says:

          Interesting. Rove’s statement is irrational in virtually every human interaction except politics, where it makes all the sense in the world. Which says a lot about politics, I suppose.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

          To me, there is almost no fact that is subject to interpretation. There are very few facts that, if you look at it differently, are actually different. For a statement to be factual, it would have to have fifty parts and seventy-five qualifiers. It depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.

          Read enough Politifact, FactCheck, and so on, and you start to recognize that even though they have “fact” in their name, they are as often as not interpreting facts. Interpreting what someone said. Interpreting the data that supports or refutes what was said. Making subjective judgments on… facts.

          Politics is where you see the most of this. But you see the same sort of thing when it comes to techie debates between geeks.Report

  10. Rufus F. says:

    Yes, yes.

    Here’s where I totally fished up: I tried to make the same point in frustration about how the threads were going. That was what my comment about “if someone wins an argument on the Internet, their deaths won’t have been in vain” was about. It was a rude, sarcastic, angry comment. Unfortunately, I stuck it at the end of a subthread instead of at the end of the thread itself, giving the impression I was talking about like one or two people in specific. No, I just don’t think those there was a lot of glory in those threads.

    As for E.D., I’ve wanted to ask: Is there some blog with a link here saying, “We can’t stop the shooter now, but let’s stop E.D. Kain!”? Because, Bobdamn if his general willingness to hear people out and change his mind when necessary hasn’t seemed to fall on deaf ears lately.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Rufus F. says:

      I believe there are a number of people linking from various comboxes across the internet claiming that I am an evil monster who wants to ship all Muslims out of Europe or some such thing. I inspire some real hatred in certain corners of the net, though I’m not exactly sure why. C’est la vie.Report

      • Murali in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        claiming that I am an evil monster who wants to ship all Muslims out of Europe or some such thingI inspire some real hatred in certain corners of the net, though I’m not exactly sure why

        Here are some reasons why:

        1. Matoko Chan

        2. Erik Kain is such a Nordic name.

        3. You have previously called yourself a conservative and people havent gotten the news update that you’re not calling yourself a conservative anymore. And everyone knows that conservatives…

        4. You have called yourself a libertarian before or are still calling yourself one now (but that doesnt explain why the rest of us get off scot free)

        5. Similar to 3 in that you call yourself a localist and localism is just a dogwhistle for states rights which is itself a dogwhistle for slavery, denial of civil rights and other injustices perpetrated by white guys in small towns with nordic names.

        5. Because you set yourself up as willing to llisten and change your mind, people feel threatened when you move from one position to another, so they get angry. If tomorrow you were to start saying that standardised testing were good, all the people who like you are currently anti standardised testing will suddenly think “Oh no, an intelligent guy like Kain who says he will change his mind when he thinks the evidence calls for has just changed his mind to a position that disagrees with me”

        6. Because you say that you will hear people out, the nutsos think “yay, here’s someone who will here me out.” And will unload everything they were meaning to say to someone over at national review etc.Report

  11. Rufus F. says:

    As for the relief, I’ll admit that I didn’t feel much relief personally about the identity of the killer. Mostly just feeling shock and horror. That said, it seems understandable to me. When someone like McVeigh commits some act of terrorism, 9 times out of 10 it turns out to be a relatively isolated incident. With an Islamic terrorist, sometimes they turn out to be a lone wolf, and sometimes its a cell with more planned in the immediate future. If you start hearing the initial stories and your thought is “Holy Christ! What if this turns out to be Bombay?!” it’s probably a relief that the guy looks more like the group that produces more lone wackos than cells of wackos.Report

  12. RTod says:

    I should probably couch this comment in the form of an apology:

    I wrote this post Sunday night, and was surprised when it got posted today. Honestly, I had assumed Erik (who, based on his recent posting flurry seems like he must be doing a million things at once) had simply spaced it, and I had been ok with that. Other things I have posted (and hope to in the future) have been things I have wanted to share, discussions I have wanted to have with people here. This one, though, fell smack into the category of “just getting something off my chest.”

    So for those of you that are already bringing up your usual good points to challenge me, know that I’m choosing not to have a “who’s political philosophy is right” discussion here, attached to this awful subject. I probably have a million things to say about my political leanings and preferences in general; as to how they relate to the atrocities in Norway, I will let what I wrote Sunday stand as everything I need or want to say.

    I feel confident that we will all continue to have similar political views in future discussions here, and I’m choosing to wait until those times to wade into these ideas.

    Thanks in advance for understanding.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to RTod says:

      RTod – thanks for your patience. This is a great post, and I’d been hit with several other guest posts basically all at the same time and wanted to space them out a bit.

      Anyways, thanks for letting some air into the room on this subject. I’m not entirely in the pragmatist camp, honestly, but I think the sober-minded camp needs all the help it can get. I almost always regret it when I hop off that wagon, as I did initially with the Norway shootings.Report

  13. fester60613 says:

    RTod – a most excellent post, thank you.
    I read an article the other day likening the Republican Party in America to a religion – and I had to agree because of the point you make in this post.
    One of my major problems with the Vatican is that it seems always to value its dogma over the lives and concerns of real people. For example the Brazilian Cardinal who excommunicated a father, a doctor and a mother for “condoning” an abortion for their 12 year old daughter who had been raped. Parents who seek a medical procedure for the good of their daughter are doing nothing wrong – but the Cardinal who summarily condemns them (to whatever extent excommunication may constitute condemnation) IS certainly doing evil.
    And now the Republicans in the House of Representatives are holding the financial well being of millions of American citizens hostage to their ideology – and will NOT compromise!
    Both the Vatican and the House Republicans are damaging human lives in the name of dogma – and that’s just plain wrong.Report

    • James Cameron in reply to fester60613 says:

      What about that poor unborn child that was heartlessly killed by the doctor, an innocent life destroyed by this tragedy? What about the millions of people in America who just don’t understand that current economic policies are wrong, and we finally have a chance to save everyone from the fiscal apocalypse?

      I agree with you on both points, however, I must state it really is easy to come up with examples for why anyone’s principles “don’t really care about the people”. And whenever someone says something is “just plain wrong” or someone is “certainly doing evil”, I cringe.Report

      • fester60613 in reply to James Cameron says:

        James – the point is that dogma, a belief without proof, is held to be more important than the lives of human beings.
        I should have mentioned that carrying the baby to term would have killed the 12 year old rape victim.
        Millions of Americans have no clue because they don’t make the effort to learn how to think critically.
        Feel free to cringe as much as you must, but I hold that the cardinal was just plain wrong and that the church is most “certainly doing evil” each and every day.
        This is my opinion, and it appears to be your trigger to cringe with disgust or repulsion or fear.
        Evil exists, James. Evil is done willingly and with malice and premeditation every single day all over the planet. It happens right in your community, where you work, where you live and when you shop and where kids you know go to school and where people you know go about their ordinary every day lives.
        And when dogma, a belief held without proof, is held to be more important than the lives of human beings, that too is evil. As surely as the slaughter of innocents during the Holocaust was evil, as surely as the Bosnian Genocide was evil, and as surely as the Rwanda genocide was evil, so to is dogma that is held to be more important than the lives of human beings is evil.Report

        • James Cameron in reply to fester60613 says:

          “The point is that dogma, a belief without proof, is held to be more important than the lives of human beings.”

          So then this is your dogma? What is your definition of a human life? Of proof? Of evil? Do you attempt to engage with other points of view, or do you just preach at them? I personally suspect the latter, given your last two paragraphs.

          And this is why I am suspicious of anyone who is certain, someone who says: “Millions of Americans have no clue because they don’t make the effort to learn how to think critically”. Aha, so the Other doesn’t think critically, but don’t worry, We do. They are evil, We are not.

          In mathematical proofs, one must define your terms before proceeding logically. You can only engage people on their terms, really, unless they agree to engage on yours. And even then it’s not really true, as I personally doubt people are utterly rational, and that they still hold some semblance of their definitions and proofs in their subconscious.

          Going meta for a moment, think about how I’m addressing you in this post. Using my social skills, and your mention of beliefs with a certain disdain while critical thinking and proof are esteemed, I assume you believe yourself and base your identity on certain dogmas, so I deliberately craft my speech in a manner meant to address you. The harshness of this post reflects my indignation at your attempt to (what I see as) preaching at me like a small child. And this is precisely my point.Report

          • fester60613 in reply to James Cameron says:

            I don’t care to defend my beliefs to you or to anyone else. I merely express my beliefs and my opinions and my hatred of religion in general. I’m not interested in dialog or debate or definitions or proofs. If you don’t like my screed then ignore it and move on. Let me make myself clear: I do not care what you think of me or my posts. If my writing makes you feel like a small child that’s your problem, not mine. If you’re offended, that’s your problem, not mine. I am, however, pleased to let you show off your rhetorical skills. Nicely written!Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to James Cameron says:

            In mathematical proofs, one must define your terms before proceeding logically.

            Quibble. What you must do in mathematics is state your assumptions (axioms) explicitly. You can define some of your terms by using lower-level terms, but the lowest-level terms are defined only via “They obey the axioms”.

            E.g. You can define multiplication as repeated addition, and you can define addition as repeatedly finding the successor of a number, but then you’ve reached the bottom of your universe of discourse. “Successor” is a primitive term, meaning it can’t be defined as anything simpler:

            What’s the successor?

            The next number.

            What does “next” mean?

            The number you get when you add 1.

            But weren’t you about to define 1 as the successor of 0?

            Aw, *(&!@*Report