Background: On February 20, 2011, at 10:59 A.M., “Inagua” posted the following message about me on another blog site: “LLS is a teacher! I missed that. It explains everything — the fuzzy thinking, the smug tone, the fact free posts.” (Chris Fountain’s For What It’s Worth, under “Greenwich teacher quality”)
(I’m going to respond, at considerable length, directly to Inagua. Although the response will seem long-winded and not-very-interesting to most people, I’m using this spot for it, rather than take up space on CF’s site. I’ll tell Inagua about it and hope to hear back. Here goes.)
This was a double whammy, because you’re saying (1) that teachers are much more likely than others to be dull-witted and self-satisfied, and (2) that I in particular have impressed you in a heap of negative ways.
These suggestions would be hurtful in and of themselves, simply because they’re so unfriendly. Beyond that, though, they were delivered under a posting from Chris Fountain that had begun with a kind of respectful disclaimer addressed to me: “LLS, you’re a teacher, and obviously not one of the folks [lousy teachers] I’m about to discuss, but perhaps you’d care to comment and give your insight.” You took Chris’s friendly, unthreatening opening and converted it to . . . well, whammy.
In addition, I really didn’t see why you’d declare me “fuzzy thinking,” “smug,” and “fact free.” I do remember that not long ago you and I went back and forth over the question of global warming, that you wanted to pin me down on the Richard Feynman statement about predictions and hypotheses, that you wanted to prove that I don’t think like a scientist, and that I refused to behave like a person in the witness stand, obliged to “answer the question and only the question being asked.” This struck you as evasive and irresponsible, I think, but as I said then, I did not want to get into either the issue of global warming itself or the question of whether I accept basic scientific principles.
We enter into discussions on blog sites for many different reasons. I distinctly remember that my reason for posting comments on that particular topic was that I think global-warming deniers (and global-warming believers, for that matter) are going to hold resolutely to their convictions, regardless of strong contradictory evidence. I was accusing Chris of taking an easy escape (from looking into the evidence) by hurling insults at warming proponents and the “sheep” who follow them. You were in that discussion for other reasons, obviously, not to dispute my contention that people hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. I think you wanted to show me up for a shallow thinker and/or a fool. Maybe not, but in light of more recent statements, it seems likely that you were far more interested in shutting me down than in an open-minded discussion of either global warming or (my specific interest at that juncture) cognitive dissonance/rationalization.
It’s not quite accurate to say “I really didn’t see why you’d declare me ‘fuzzy thinking,’ ‘smug,’ and ‘fact free.’ ” I suspected that your disapproval of me stemmed from various things I’ve posted that you didn’t agree with, and, more particularly, from my uncooperativeness in the global warming discussion. But I think that you jumped to some unjustifiable conclusions. I don’t deny being all those bad things at times, but those are not characteristics of mine. The global warming scenario, which I’m sure convinced you I was fuzzy-thinking and evasive, actually amounted to this (as I more or less said at the time): An honest discussion of the issue deserves a lot more space, time, and thought than can be found in the midst of a multi-person back-and-forth on Chris Fountain’s blog.
Here’s how I think–or try to think–about global warming:
I’ve heard the claims and counterclaims, watched the Al Gore film, clicked a number of blog postings, pro and con. After many hours of honest uncertainty—at least about specific data, claims, and predictions—and many hours of investigation, I could only take my best guess about global warming. My best guess is that it’s real, that a significant portion of it is man-made, and that the consequences are going to prove, though not entirely foreseeable, largely unpleasant. Am I a scientist? Nowhere near. It seems to me that a non-scientist is forced to rely on authorities, much more than one would like. And the authorities I have tended to rely on have strongly indicated that global warming is anything but a hoax. I should add that no matter how much time I spend looking into something, there’s never a point at which I’m 100% certain. In the case of global warming, I’ve more than once put my convictions on Pause and taken another look. Last summer, for instance, I stumbled across a very long video series, available online, that seemed to me to be balanced and authoritative. I started watching the installments without knowing what the presenter’s verdict would be, and I was willing to suspend judgment until I heard his case and weighed his verdict. I came away from the series thinking, “Wow! The deniers are stubborn, but the evidence is pretty convincing.” This echoes a long-held suspicion about people hearing and believing what they want to hear and believe, regardless. (I’ve thought this for decades, and more so with each passing year.)
In the proper space, and given sufficient time, I would be happy to reopen the global-warming dialogue. And I’d be willing to discover, if it’s true, that I don’t think at all like a scientist—that I instinctively reject the scientific principle laid down by Richard Feynman, if that proves to be the case. If you or someone else feels it’s worthwhile to convince me that I’m a shallow-minded fool, I might even give that message serious consideration, because despite what I think is true of all human beings, I would love to be able to rise above rationalizations and self-delusions. If I am actually an idiot, why should I deny it?
The secret of convincing me, though, probably lies in patience. I think you have to sneak up on me, engage me in civil discourse, make it seem as though you respect me. Under such conditions, I am such a gullible guy that I’ll be lulled into complacency and, before you know it, I’ll discover for myself that I’m a lame brain!
Please note: Much of the preceding language will strike you as sarcastic. I don’t deny a sarcastic (or maybe just playful) tone. But, if it’s conceivable to you, I mean every word of it!
Addendum: As a fan of Feynman, you might appreciate this “job interview” that I just found: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ericlippert/archive/2011/02/14/what-would-feynman-do.aspx