Monday, December 28, 2015

Avoiding Authoritarianism

The title word, authoritarianism, is being borrowed here. It has a generic meaning, which is of having a central authority running everything instead of individual liberty, whatever that might mean. Perhaps authoritarianism is the opposite of libertarianism, as it is currently described. Authoritarian means something like dictatorial, where a person in control uses their authority to exercise control, rather than being permissive, which might be a tolerable opposite. Authority is somebody who is an expert on a subject and doesn’t have any compunction about expounding on it. So the adding of suffixes to the core word changes the meaning drastically.

I would like to use the full word to mean the process or act of relying on authorities rather than on logical deduction from experimental facts or proven theories. This moves the meaning of the core word up to the full double-suffixed word. I think it is a better meaning than the originals.

Authoritarianism means in this new, adapted, use the reliance on quotes from some person of importance instead of on original thought or individual derivation. It is used by someone who does not want to take the time to reproduce the thinking necessary for a conclusion, so they use the abbreviation of “So-and-so said that aliens were all green” instead of deriving the reason why they are green. This makes things difficult if it is used to contradict a conclusion, as the person making the conclusion has only a phantom to reason with and nothing but a search in order to hold up the conclusion, followed by a rebuttal of an absent non-contributor.

For this reason, this blog will avoid references and quotes. Anything stated will have some basis for it. This might be thought of as denying previous work its due, but that type of referencing belongs in scientific papers in journals, not in blogs. In reading scientific papers and writing them, time can be taken to ferret out where the original remarks were first made, and the preceeding remarks that showed the direction for the original remarks, and the three attempts made before that that shed light on the subject and led the original remarker to his remark, and so on. This is all fine for someone writing for attribution, but in a blog, using references reeks of authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism, at its worst, consists of substituting quotes for thinking. Perhaps this is not the worst. The worst is when the quotes are replaced by paraphrases, and the paraphrases make no mention of the conditions and caveats that went along with the quotes. Most scientists are very scrupulous about listing the conditions under which their conclusion might be valid, but these restrictions are often lost by those dependent on authoritarianism. instead, the conclusion is stated as a law of nature, not to be disputed. This is a misuse of authority.

I was wrong. The worst is when the authority involved is not an authority on that subject at all, but just someone who was backed into a corner and asked to give an off-the-cuff opinion. Many scientists will absolutely refuse to do this, but sometimes they have done some thinking about the topic, and in a venue with others sharing the same interest, they will share their early opinions. Woe to the scientist whose early opinions are quoted in the press. It is a chain that forever binds.

I was double or triply wrong. The worst is when the authority quoted is not even an authority on anything, just an important person or a celebrity, such as a politician. Granted, some people are better at making intuitive deductions than others, and sometimes these lucky holders of good intuition become famous or rich or prominent. If they are not scientists, they might not even have the well-trained reluctance to pontificate on subjects they are not experts on. They simply are loose-tongued speakers, whose celebrity grabs the attention of the media, and whose words become recorded in a casual way in the press or in social media.

No, I take that back, what is the worst is when the authority quoted is not an authority at all on anything, but pretends to be. This version of worst is made possible when the people reading the quotes are not sufficiently sophisticated in appreciating the difference between casual opinion and nuanced deductions, based on evidence. The readers may not even be familiar with how science works or with any deep parts of science. The only thing they might be familiar with is deciding if some poser is writing or speaking as if they were an authority, when they have no reason whatsoever to make that claim.

We live in a world in which only five percent or less of the population has received the elementary training that everyone should be entitled to. I am talking about what is called STEM training, referring to the words, ‘science, technology, engineering, mathematics’. No one should be denied this training, nor should they be denied the necessary precursor training that would enable them to embrace the STEM subjects and make use of that training to expand their own internal capability to think clearly. STEM training makes an excellent basis for anyone interested in reasoning about any topic, within STEM subjects or outside them.

With so many people denied this essential training, it is no wonder that authoritarianism is rife. What is someone to do who has not been allowed to understand the basic methods of reasoning that STEM training provides? There may be a very small percentage of people who gain the ability to reason about scientific subjects without having been trained in any of them, where we include all STEM areas in this. These people are like the early scientists who simply taught themselves how to reason. Unfortunately, this percentage is tiny.

So, to repeat the choice made here, there will be no harking to authority on any points, no referencing someone else’s conclusions, no matter who they are. Everything will be justified, or at least an attempt will be made to show the plausibility of it.

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