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Opening Arguments

Feeling smart

About that "the climate debate is over" crowd:

This is a common problem where people are more interested in the social role of a rational intellectual than truth-seeking discussion. They’re more interested in feeling smart than being smart. They’re more interested in self-image than action. They care about popular opinion and socialized legitimized status, and only feel much need to address arguments with some kind of (social) authority behind them. They look at the source of ideas and then wonder whether, socially, they can get away with ignoring the ideas (ignoring arguments is something they seem to treat as desirable and try to maximize).

[. . .]

But they don’t want to win. They want to feel like they won; they want to look like they won. Really winning the debate? That’s something you want to do when your position in the debate is, “this bridge is capable of supporting my weight,” and you’re about to walk on it. Therein, I think, lies the problem — we have too many people arguing about bridges, and not enough people planning to walk on them. Therefore, as more people in our society become insulated from the work and the danger associated with it, this society is losing its connection to truth. Through lack of interest. Fewer and fewer people are invested in any of that truth, save for the truth of their own social standing.

"Feeling smart" might sound oxymoronic, but it's actually a pretty good take on those people. Those of us who study logic and try to follow its dictates recognize the "appeal to authority" as one of the most common logical fallacies. When that is the fallback position of your argument, you are in more trouble than you'd care to admit.

As one who believes the truth is out there and can be known, I've always considered the search for it a long and arduous process. We can't know it all at once but find a little truth here and there on the way to big truth -- it's like the story of the sculptor who says he carves an elephant by chipping away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. Too many people think they're done chipping away when they're really not.

The trouble with the global warming zealots is that they think they have discovered big truth -- all of it, all at once -- and that it will never change, so they have stopped thinking. Of course they don't want to debate.