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Sunday, March 19, 2017
Trump exists, say liberals, therefore the world cannot be realAre libs suffering from derealization-depersonalization disorder? Also, the ethics of sociological experimentation
n a recent article in The Conversation, Michael Frazer of the University of East Anglia puts a liberal spin on the question of whether the world is a computer simulation—a hot topic these days among our techno nutter class. He has two separate arguments. The first one is about the real world:
Experiments in global politics in the real world wouldn't just be prohibitively difficult and expensive. They would also be unethical.
In a sense the history of mankind has been one giant experiment in global politics. Much of it has been a test of ideas about human nature: whether things work better under centralized or individual control, or whether a top-down educational system works better than a free market. Many of these questions are amenable to experimentation. Science cannot make value judgments, but it can tell us if an idea works better at achieving a specific goal.
Misinformation about how people behave in groups is pervasive. For example, many of the Democrats' political beliefs—that there is no such thing as race, that women are systematically discriminated against, and so on—are based on conclusions that are extremely shaky. A more rigorous sociology could, at the very least, eliminate political ideology from these questions.
In the past, sociology has cut corners by inferring causal relationships on the basis of statistical correlations. No branch of real science does this. The only way to get at the truth is by doing controlled randomized experiments; it is the only way of establishing causation.
Take the question of whether college attendance increases income. The two are highly correlated, but does one really cause the other? It's important to know the truth because people will decide whether to go to college based on the result.
It's easy to design a good experiment to prove it: select a sufficiently large group of students who want to attend college but can't afford it. Give half of them free tuition and see what happens. Valid experiments in sociology are not impossible. Yes, they can be expensive, but there is no alternative. If you want a correct answer, you spend whatever it takes.
There is nothing unethical about experiments like this. If sociology wants to be considered a branch of science, it must start doing science properly. If it succeeds, it would go a long way in counteracting the misinformation spread by ideologues.
Okay, now to the more interesting part of Frazer's argument. Making liberals suffer by forcing them to live in a world where there is a Donald Trump, he says, is cool. (No, not cool, cool! I mean cruel!)
The UK voting for Brexit and the US electing Donald Trump as president were unthinkable 18 months ago. In fact, they're so extraordinary that some have questioned whether they might not be an indication that we're actually living in some kind of computer simulation or alien experiment.
. . .
We would never put creatures we love into a simulated world filled with malaria, famine, civil war ... and Donald Trump.
The part about Trump is not a joke. He's saying that if the world were a simulation, it would be cruel to make bad things happen. If you populated your world with Cubs fans, it would be cruel to make them lose. If you were foolish enough to fill the world with lefties, it would be cool ... cruel to make them live in a world with a Trump in it, even though, as they've reluctantly conceded, he's not literally Hitler.
Liberals have an almost unlimited ability to deny reality. But when they say the world is fake because of Brexit and Trump, they sound like they're suffering from some kind of reactive depersonalization-derealization disorder.
If you're even vaguely familiar with religious philosophy, you know these arguments were settled centuries ago. The argument that God, if he existed, would have made the world perfect was old long before Leibniz, who said we were living in the most perfect possible world. The general answer given by Christianity is that the possibility of suffering is necessary for there to be free will.
What makes us so sure we can know whether something is cruel? We know from history that what seems great for one individual can easily lead to civilization-wide catastrophe. What is cruel for an individual might be essential for a civilization. Even a being with perfect knowledge might not know which is less cruel; maybe that's why they would need to run a simulation. If that's what's happening, we ought to be grateful for that, because the alternative is an infinity of nothingness.
The reason we aren't, I suppose, is that today's intellectuals no longer believe in
civilization, and care only about their own personal well-being. So when their
favorite candidate loses the election, it seems like the end of the world.
Not giving them whatever they want is too cool for words... darn it, I mean
cool. cool. Cruel.
Created mar 19, 2017; revised mar 20 2017; last edited mar 22 2017 4:58 am
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