Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Quest for Intelligent Trump Supporters

I՚ve indicated in the past that I was looking for intelligent Trump supporters to engage with, and couldn՚t really find any. Well, Scott Alexander at SlateStarCodex has published his own thoughts on the election (advocates voting against Trump), leading to over 2000 comments at this writing, many of them pro-Trump. Scott is very intelligent and draws an intelligent crowd, so there we go. Lots of bright people are engaging with the nature of Trump and politics in general, and they represent a diversity of views on the political spectrum.

Unfortunately it all seems like a waste of effort to me, because it is 100% unquestionably obvious that Trump has no serious policy knowledge or positions, so there is no point debating them. Scott acknowledge this:
Donald Trump not only has no solution to that problem [full employment], he doesn’t even understand the question. He lives in a world where there is no such thing as intelligence, only loyalty.
But he nevertheless goes on to pick apart Trump՚s policy statements in detail, because he apparently has boundless time and energy. I certainly didn't have the time to do the same, nor to read all 2000 comments, but here are a few pro-Trump people and their arguments:

Protest Manager
“President Obama set out to change that, since the only think he hates more than American power and success, is a Republican success.”
This is standard wingnut delusional resentment. The guy is also anti climate science, and eventually got himself banned.


Racism doesn՚t exist, it՚s something invented by Democrats and a threat, and thus
“A vote for Hillary is a vote increasing existential risk!”.
That this is elaborate nonsense should be obvious (indeed it seems obvious to the writer).

SSC people are big on existential risk except they seem to think that the most significant factor is not climate change or hostile AIs, but mean SJWs. Charitably, this means they are very young and overly influenced by their college experiences, or possibly living too much of their lives on the internet.

E. Harding

This guy has the most seemingly-fact-based arguments for Trump. If I wanted to have an argument, I might start with him. But of course most of it is wildly colored, eg:
“Obama created ISIS, almost certainly deliberately.”
This is a ridiculous distortion of the truth, which is that the west had some complicity in the creation of ISIS but it was due to the usual incompetent meddling in foreign wars, not some nefarious plot because Obama likes it when Americans are beheaded.

Luke the CIA Stooge
Trump Is not an existential threat. THE US FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT.…I support trump [because] He’s most likely to permanently damage the authority, legitimacy and power of the US federal government.”
At least this is consistent. If I was the anarchist hothead I was 30 years ago, I might buy this argument. Trump indeed is likely to do permanent damage to the US government, and if that's what you want he's a good choice.

In summary, I՚m not impressed and at this point I don՚t even feel much of a need to have this debate, because it is obvious based on character alone that Trump would be a terrible president. But – I suppose it must be acknowledged that not all Trump supporters are idiots or racists. They have arguments, just not very good ones.

Finally, I should mention Scott՚s conclusion:
The enemy isn’t leftism or social justice. The enemy is epistemic vice.

When the Left errs, it’s through using shouting and shaming to cut through the long and painful process of having to justify its beliefs. It’s through confusing disagreement with evil, a dissenter who needs convincing with a thought-criminal who needs neutralizing.
First, this acknowledgement is an indication of the fact that to a large segment of Scott՚s audience, the enemy is in fact leftism and social justice. That there is a large body of people to whom “justice” has become a curse word is alarming.

Second, I think this exposes a deep philosophical rift between me and Scott and his fellow rationalists. The idea of “epistemic vice” presupposes “epistemic virtue”, that is, that there is some objective model of the world that if we could all somehow figure out, it would solve these difficult problems like full employment and foreign religious wars.

Regardless of whether objective truth exists, elections are not about figuring it out, they are battles over which alliance of forces will get to rule. In this particular election, the lines couldn՚t be clearer: it is the liberal globalized capitalist elite, with generally enlightenment values including technological progress and human universalism, against whatever it is Trump represents, which is some ill-defined mess of ethnic chauvinism, aggressive nationalism, and anti-rationality.

There is no objective reason to prefer one of these sides to the other. There՚s a lot to dislike about the Davos elite, and there are various reasons people have for being on the side of Trump (or the equivalent in other parts of the world, like the National Front in France). These reasons make sense to them, and I don՚t think there՚s much hope of reason convincing them otherwise. No amount of epistemic virtue can settle what is at its root a radical clash of worldview, a power struggle, not an argument.

BUT, it is glaringly, painfully obvious which side of this someone like me, or Scott, or his readers, should support. If your primary values are reason and fact-based decision making, the choice is obvious. If you put overall human welfare over the interests of your immediate ethnic group, the choice is obvious. If you are repelled by violence, the choice is obvious.

[ update: ok, here is a large list of "scholars & writers" who support Trump. Oddly there are no links to any actual writing, so who knows what the arguments are. The list seems to be a mix of well-known worthless right-wing hacks (Bill Bennett, David Horowitz, John Lott] and unknown academics from places like Hillsdale College. But I guess they count as "intelligent". ]


jed said...

I don't think Scott implied "accessible objective reality" by saying "epistemic vice."

Instead I think for him (and anyway for me) epistemic virtue requires a reasonable level of epistemic humility in the face of a complex world. Or, as Cromwell said, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

Beyond that we could argue. "Rationality" would be nice if we could pin it down, but has been weaponized by Economics and other political movements.

Maybe the step we can take beyond epistemic humility is a set of practices for recognizing better and worse arguments, and moving away from the worse and toward the better. I'm pretty sure Scott would find this formulation congenial.

Anyway, I'm quite comfortable calling epistemic arrogance plus a tendency toward bad arguments "epistemic vice", and epistemic humility plus a desire and practices for moving toward good arguments "epistemic virtue."

I hope we can agree that this perspective doesn't necessarily rely on "objective reality" whatever that might mean.

If you still find this objectionable please let me know why.

mtraven said...

Thanks for the comment!

Of course, there is nothing wrong with epistemic virtue and humility, and I appreciate the work Scott and others do to promote them. And you are right, they don՚t have to be tied to any sort of objectivist view of reality.

I am not sure, however, they are the right tool to apply to politics, which sort of requires an almost antithetical attitude. Politics is about contests of strength, and the winning side gets the power to inflict their version of reality on everybody else. That is, they not only get to have effects on the world (the crude form of power) but they control to some extent the interpretation of the world we use to navigate it. Think of the election not just as a contest between two people or parties, but between explanatory frameworks.

Rationalists hate the idea that power can be determinative of truth (See Bruno Latour will give you the flavor if you are interested).

Scott bends over backwards to be fair to Trump, to neoreactionaries, and other deplorables. There՚s something admirable about that, and I guess it is rooted in epistemic humility.

The un-admirable aspect of such careful balancing of sides is that it seems also to be rooted in a horror of conflict. But make no mistake, politics is a war of conflicting values, and in the present circumstances an honorable neutrality is less and less tenable. Sometimes you have to pick your side and join the fight.

Anonymous said...

"If your primary values are reason and fact-based decision making, the choice is obvious."
Unless we're talking about ethnic/racial facts, for example, which your side ignores religiously.

"If you are repelled by violence, the choice is obvious."
What type of violence are we talking about?
International violence/war: I see no indication whatsoever that Hillary is a better choice. You could easily argue the opposite.
For domestic violence: I don't see it either, other than Trump calling people names (which is, indeed, deplorable). If you mean ethnic conflicts because the "racists" will gain power... Well, I'm pretty sure violence and crime in general was lower in the US pre-civil rights and that likely includes the black communities themselves. And I am sure that most, if not all, people you call racist simply want peaceful segregation and living in decent communities, not violence.

Dain said...

"If you are repelled by violence, the choice is obvious."

The weird thing here is that for all the talk of Trump's winking at violence, it's Clinton who has overtly aligned herself (by seeking an endorsement) with an organization - a race-based one at that - that is at the center of multiple violent conflagrations in major cities across the US. You know who I'm talking about. Trump has online commenters who say mean things; Clinton has meatheads in meatspace who smash things up. If the stoking of a resentful race war makes you wince, Clinton should too.

Based on precisely the values YOU appear to hold dear, Hillary comes out worse. As for overseas violence, that's indeed another matter...