Archive for the ‘Charity’ Category


A World of Discovery

September 2, 2010

Dead crazyperson and one-time eco-crusader James Lee has stirred up a veritable shitstorm of political opportunism with his recent hostage-taking at the Discovery Network. Here, you can see all the fun posts about the political associations of nutcrackers by travelling to Wonkette.

The Washington Post begins the thread by calling Lee an “environmental militant”. Think Progress then says one thing. Anthony Watts anotherJoe Romm another. Whee! This is fun.

No, but seriously. This event, like most of these events, is the result of a person who is seriously out of psychological balance. He was not sorting the world into goods and bads, as the Washington Post seems to assert. He was not sorting out good and bad ideologies. He was having difficulty identifying goods and bads, rights and wrongs, full stop. He was exercising exceptionally poor judgment, and we have evidence of this in his actions today. In effect, he had a problem with reasoning.

The lesson here, I think, apart from the truism that mental illness is a serious problem and that we need to provide help to those who aren’t capable of finding that help for themselves, is that it is incredibly easy to use crazy people for political gain, to ignore the serious burdens that reason places on us by appealing instead to all of the nutty dumdums who pepper our nightly news broadcasts.

Much as I believe that there are many unreasonable people — even completely nutty people — who disagree with me politically, it does nobody any good to focus on the nutty. To say that some position X will cause other people to Y, or that some position A is the consequence of derangement or disorder, is to psychologize reason away. Far better to focus on the reasonable, to hone in on an argument by deploying the principle of charity, to find the best representative of a given position and dismantle that position on its own terms.

In this respect, Stanley Fish’s column this week is incredibly prescient:

The formula is simple and foolproof (although those who deploy it so facilely seem to think we are all fools): If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon.

The only thing more breathtaking than the effrontery of the move is the ease with which so many fall in with it. I guess it’s because both those who perform it and those who eagerly consume it save themselves the trouble of serious thought.


Feeding Frenzy

November 20, 2009

Whoa. The denialosphere is all a twitter with heated banter about a hacked computer server at the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU).  You can read the ecstatic blog-comments here and here. Frankly, it’s hard to compile all of the data, nonetheless make sense of it. Essentially, some very heavy hitters in the climate community have (allegedly) had their server hacked. A large collection of e-mails over the past decade or so has been released, including strategies about how best to respond to critics and how to ensure that papers make it through peer review.

There are cries of “smoking gun,” “conspiracy,” “collusion,” from those who naturally suspect as much. I’ll confess that it creeps me out to read these e-mails, mostly because it feels so terribly peeping-tom-ish. I’ll even confess that if one puts on some significant ideological glasses, it may look like there’s a lot of shady business going on. There may even be shady business. Certainly, a good bit of this will be spun wildly.

Most of what I’ve seen, however, doesn’t give me the impression that there’s shady business going on. It just makes me uneasy. It’s terribly frank and casual, like many e-mails are. (“That guy X is a massive jerk, isn’t he? Let’s give him a hard time.”) Employing the principle of charity to what I’ve seen so far actually leaves me feeling that the e-mails are not so incriminating. I suppose there really is a possibility of unearthing something devastating, but I’m skeptical about the extent to which there’s anything jaw-dropping here. I’m not at all ruling out the possibility that something jaw-dropping will be discovered, I just don’t know if there is anything yet. (I’ve not sifted through the actual collection of e-mails, mind you. I’m just reading what some of the commenters have written. I assume they’ve culled the best for the most blood-thirsty.)

At any rate, this is an interesting development (not unlike this one). I’ll be really curious to see how it unfolds. Anybody who wants to post something they deem to be extremely incriminating here, feel free to do so. I’m happy to try to give it the most charitable read possible.

UPDATE: Roger has linked to an interview in TGIF (pdf) essentially confirming that the e-mails are real. Doesn’t say much about whether they’ve been tampered with, but he too raises the question that I have. Is this serious or is this much ado about nothing?

UPDATE 2: RealClimate has responded. The more I read the e-mails, the more I think RC is straight up in its response. It is true that I lean their way climatologically speaking, and it is also true that I don’t want a massive political explosion out of this, but as any normal person who would be concerned about this must do, I’m trying to read their e-mails with both a critical and a charitable eye. There is definitely political fodder here. To my mind, not much else.

One point that is not getting much play is the seemingly clear indication that all of these e-mails have been culled in at least one respect: they’re a selection; they don’t contain everything ever written by e-mail. There’s little here about kids, about illness, about who wants to go out for a beer, about other non-professional stuff. Since they’ve been culled in this way, this suggests that someone has read them. They couldn’t filter them for personal content otherwise. And since someone has read them, there’s no reason to believe that that someone has also not tampered with them, or at least tweaked the wording slightly. As I’ve said, very little here seems incriminating to me, so as I read how non-incriminating this is, I’m less likely to suspect that they have been tweaked. At the same time, one cannot dismiss the fact that whoever collected these has read through each of them both with (a) some knowledge of the larger political context and (b) some intent to harm or malign the reputation of those in the e-mails.