Shalom Smokey: A Place for Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics and All That

Some  TSW readers, including at least one Anonymous, seem to have energy around discussing the political, philosophical and metaphysical underpinnings of the issues we deal with.  To that end , I’m opening a special section called Shalom Smokey.  As with everything, it’s an experiment, and we’ll see how it goes.

So back to our discussion of my post about Taking a Deep Breath.  Mike said:

“People will trust their own observations over any level of rhetoric.” That simply isn’t true and there is a plethora of research that proves it is wrong. In fact, what happens is the rhetoric “informs” people how they should interpret their observations. The rise in and effectiveness of dissemination of misinformation and its effectiveness should be enough evidence all by itself to help you understand your statement is incorrect.

I think many disagreements are simply that we talk past each other, because we are thinking of different examples.  Mesic or dry forests, American chestnut or spotted owls.  In my case, I wasn’t thinking of politics at all.  I was thinking of two of my other favorite non-forest topics, mysticism in religion, and parapsychology/mediums/near-death experiences.  People who have these experiences traditionally have not been able to be argued out of them by authorities.  That’s why authorities had to burn people at the stake.  Imagine you went to a medium and know in some way that you have communicated with a non-living relative.  If you read a book by a materialist scientist who tells  you it isn’t possible.. or a religious authority who tells you you were really speaking to diabolic forces, most people I talk to (which may not be a random sample) will just nod their head, but you actually haven’t changed their mind.

What I’ve noticed from my experience, is that many people have had these experiences, but they may not feel that it is safe to talk about them.  So they effectively keep their beliefs underground. There’s a corollary here also.. mistrust of people who tell you to believe something you know not to be true. I think it’s more obvious in spiritual belief world.. who are you to tell me what to believe? Do your ideas count more than my experiences?  Why are you interested in converting me, can’t you leave me alone? What’s in it for you?  The Inquisition folks thought they were right.  In fact, the US founders were escaping wars between people who thought they were right and they should tell other people what to do. Think Munster Rebellion.

Or one of my favorite stories is a presentation at an SAF convention probably 30 years ago now.  A professor had done research on Red-Cockaded Woodpecker.  A field forester in the audience afterwards pointed out that he had seen a bird somewhere not predicted by the model.  So to me this was the most magical of moments.. how can both things be true? What’s going on there?  Sadly, the prof just said basically “your observation is not in the literature.”  As if there are observations, and there is literature, and it’s not important for them to meet to get at the truth. Do you think the field forester changed his mind about what he saw and where it was?

Both people were good-hearted, I’m sure. The problem was that at the time, the places to have that kind of dialogue did not exist. Now it does.  Or should, IMHO.

Yesterday, I was on a Zoom call with Dr. Frank Luntz, a political scientist who seems to know a lot of stuff (an article based on his data is coming out in the New York Times supposedly on Tuesday). He sounded disappointed that people trust institutions less.  But institutions have to act trustworthy to retain trust. Think about prescribed fire, the 90 day stand-down, and the public’s involvement in the analysis and release of findings.  Compare that to say, the question of Covid origins.  So to my mind, people have to trust you for them to allow you to question their experiences.  And so we’re back to relationships and trust.


Toby pointed out  “However, the weak point is figuring out how to convince the truly ignorant that there is better information available, or to at least to entertain the notion that perhaps there are other perspectives that are more informed by and consistent with reality. I’d appreciate some guidance on this one.”

Again, I start from the premise “why can’t we leave the ignorami alone?” And when is diversity of views a good thing, and when a bad thing, and why?

And some more academic research about diverse views, via our friends the fisheries folks..

In this work, we draw on collective intelligence (CI) theory and hypothesize that the aggregation of LK from diverse stakeholder groups can produce more complete and potentially more accurate representations of complex problems with interconnected social and environmental components. CI is typically defined as a group phenomenon that enables a group to accomplish complex tasks where individuals or any subset within it might fail (12). This group advantage may emerge when a collective of individuals either collaborate or independently aggregate their knowledge to address a problem (1214). The group may, therefore, benefit from a larger, more refined, or recombined body of knowledge, because aggregation mechanisms filter out errors and biases, compensate for individuals’ insufficiencies, or result in innovative solutions (e.g., refs. 1517)

For sure, that’s not politics exactly, but still..

And of course, there are post-modernist views that it is impossible to have facts outside of their social construction. From a class at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research that apparently was held last year called Michel Foucault: Truth and Power

Does the genealogical method of inquiry necessarily undermine the idea of objective truths that are stable across place and time? What are the implications of arguing, as Foucault does, that human history is characterized by ruptures and discontinuities in what we hold to be true? What is a discourse, and how does it render certain ideas credible and others beyond the pale? What are the means through which “regimes of truth” have historically operated, and to what effect? Is it still possible to speak of facts outside of their social construction? And to what extent is the debunking of objectivity associated with Foucault and his followers implicated in our own world of alternative facts?

So there’s many places this discussion could lead us, let’s continue.

8 thoughts on “Shalom Smokey: A Place for Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics and All That”

  1. Paul of Tarsus was hung over and had been smoking opium when he was overcome. Jesus of Nazareth had visions after fasting. The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have enjoyed hashish. Joseph Smith was 18, drunkenly praying that God would forgive him for sins of debauchery when he heard voices. Wovoka witnessed a solar eclipse on peyote that compelled a generation of Ghost Dancers. As a result of ingesting psychoactive fungi Heȟáka Sápa or Nicholas Black Elk rejected catholicism and returned to Lakota ways after he realized the Roman Church was committing crimes against his people.

    Metanoia, visions, angels, the Holy Spirit–God’s work on Earth, right?

    Maybe it’s all in your head.

    Ten years ago former NPR religion correspondent, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, went looking for the “God Spot,” that place in the human brain that receives the Holy Spirit then compiled her results in a book she called The Fingerprints of God where she describes Temporal Lobe Epilepsy with a scientist’s fascination in exquisite detail.

    Entheogen is a term derived from two words of ancient Greek that effectively translates to English as “the god within.”

    • See, Larry, that’s what I mean. Neither you nor I were there with Paul so we really can’t know what he experienced. So how can either of us make knowledge claims about it?

      It could be all in our many heads, through space and time. My point is that we are unlikely to be convinced by argument of something we have experienced.

      Now, there is a special role in some communities called “discernment of spirits”.. when someone has a revelation that is a) outside the standard and b) potentially actionable in a negative way, trusted members of the community will discern whether this is a true revelation, some aspect of mental illness, or from darker forces. So a person can believe in their vision, but there is a community filter system between them and the vision affecting the community.

      Which is perhaps off the subject, but the process of figuring out “this person has a bad idea, how can we keep it from affecting the community” is a little different, and more manageable, than “this person has a bad idea, how can I change their mind?”

  2. Shalom Smokey Indeed! I must admit over the last year or so, at least to me, TSW version of discussions about natural resource management and differing opinions put forth, including my own, has grown rather stale, often we have been talking past each other, not to hard to understand given our particular biases and experiences. I’ve especially enjoyed hearing what Jim Furnish has had to say, probably because I worked on the Forest he supervised and experienced the drastic changes that happened subsequent to the R6 Timber wars, almost 50% reduction of forest personnel in 2-3 years in the early-mid 90’s. Thats my bias. Perhaps an examination and discussion about these things could be interesting?
    Earlier this year I had an experience with Covid that eventually landed me in the hospital with heart failure and pneumonia, I spent a few days in a state of delirium, in and out consciousness, or maybe I was sleeping. A lot of the experiences I had in the Vietnam War seemed to come before me, some in greater detail or more drastic then I thought they were. I guess my 75 yo perspective is different than was my 19 yo perspective. Fortunately I responded to treatment and came home after a few days. Since then I seem to be examining some of my life experiences in a different light, perhaps I am more in touch with my own mortality. Things seem different now somehow.
    So whats really happening with this information or “misinformation” thing? Isn’t all information subject to our perspectives or biases to a certain extent? When our former president claims the 2020 election was “stolen” from him, didn’t more of us vote for his opponent rather then him, and to him it seems a theft? Here in NM we had that large Calf Canyon conflagration, largest fire in recorded state history this last Spring/Summer, widespread destruction over a large area, people everywhere were outraged, the FS was vilified over supposed incompetence, yet now around here few seem to care anymore, unless it directly effected you it is mostly forgotten, or maybe forgiven, or maybe not, the Santa Fe NF is now being challenged on some major projects because some public think not enough analysis was performed.

    • Tom, we haven’t heard about those changes (R6 timber wars) from that perspective.. please submit a post about your own experiences to kick off discussion.

      As to the need for more analysis… often that is generated by people hopeful that the agency will stop and consider its actions more carefully. Or who don’t want the project.

  3. Your anecdote reminds me of a very strange episode in Klamath Falls, Oregon in [I think] spring, 1987. Nesting spotted owls had been found in a 25-year-old Weyerhaeuser plantation. When asked about this surprising discovering, a straight-faced Forest Service owl biologist told his audience, “We think there is something wrong with those owls.” To which I replied, “What, are they mentally ill?” Lots of laughter but no reply.

    • How I interpret those kinds of stories is “our current systems (in those days) has no place or institution to have those kinds of practitioner/academic or even practitioner/practitioner discussions, so I don’t know how to respond.” But I don’t think it’s hard to imagine. A place where someone lays out “here’s what I think, or what the literature says, do you have any experience in the field that supports it or goes against it?” and field going folks can respond.

      It’s happening though, in some quarters, I think the Hotshot Wakeup Person does this. Certainly natural resource professional societies could be more intentional about this. IMHO.

  4. if i’m getting the jist, it’s a direction of discussion (ideally civil, devoid of pointless pejoratives and the like that seem to have increased from some quarters, won’t name names) based on what you might call the “meta-” discourses around NR?

    and taking off from there, an initial focus on the problems of trust?

    At least that’s my understanding. And a good project, I imagine, if difficult. Some directions bound to be more fruitful than others, but a civil framing and discussion of the “meta” issues may be a way of getting at the more classically “NR” issues from a fresh angle, or perhaps more interestingly, why the classical NR issues are so intractable.

    Of course, civil doesn’t mean neutral, no pretense necessary there. What you’re describing seems like it could be broken into several patterns that each may attach to a given epistemological difficulty. Some inadequate initial thoughts, each of which could be a post, probably.

    Problem of trust 1: “Where do your facts come from”

    Problem of trust 2: “Do I like your facts, that is, do they jive with a conclusion i already accepted?”

    Example: some ENGOs will cite DellaSalla’s climate change research in any context, however irrelevant, as supposed proof of the climate catastrophe that waits in the wings of every single project that isn’t basically recreation or wilderness promotion. discussion of old-growth largely ignore any of the even basic nuances you’d find in any college-level science text, say, chapters 11 and 16 of Oliver and Larson, Forest Stand Dynamics. industry in the broadly “not west” will cite western fire resiliency studies as if it proves an urgent need to do the exact same thing east of the 100th meridian. these examples are overstatements all, but only slightly.

    Perhaps two or three underlying epistemological problems:
    1 What does science do, and what does it tell us?
    2 And are we facing a scientific problem here?
    3 finally, what to make of differing “sciences” (or at least different authorities) touted by different constituencies?

    on 1 and 2: I would wager that a misguided view of what exactly science can and can’t do lies behind some of these, and related to that, a misguided view of NR questions as purely resolvable, scientifically. Not that it’s revolutionary to point this out (see, e.g. Nie’s discussion of wicked problems in his “governing western public lands” textbook) but the rhetorical default seems, from my point of view, to very readily default back to a “what does the science tell us” line. Take the common “do more analysis” request, or the “follow the science” trope that makes it into, i daresay, every press release from agency and ENGO, industry group, etc alike. Both on attack and defense, disputants in NR will take a “science tells us” kind of line, when it seems like science tells us a great many things about various causal chains, none of which are going to tell us exactly which presuppositions we should start with about uses of resources, trust-ability of various sources, among other things.

    On the third; the assumption that we must follow the science, and that “the science” will arbitrate these disputes becomes a tangled thread when you’ve got competing, or at least apparently competing claims from similarly credentialed sources. faced with information that doesn’t fit into easy falsification / verification paradigms; communities fall back on other criteria for theory choice. And, anecdotally, that’s probably going to be the properly credentialed individuals speaking in support of the presupposition you already held.

    Of course, all this is to say that being intentional, daresay, honest, is one of the ways to potentially help clear the thicket of problems that stems from claiming the mantle of science univocally speaking in support of your favored position. It’s not a revolutionary point by any means, but I wonder, if put into consistent practice, would it disarm some of the rhetoric and allow people to hold their claims a bit lighter? And, in the realm of personal opinion, claims held lightly aren’t as easy to use as cudgels, in a manner of speaking. What might this look like? Well, not sure. but, it certainly looks more like the tedious work of comparing claims about different cause-effect relationships than triumphant “we followed the science” or “they need to follow the science” lines that define much of the rhetoric.

    A postscript on social constructs and narratives: Foucault is one of the more insightful postmodernists (vs. Derrida’s faux-linguistics, or, god forbid, Lacan) but the postmodern position of the untenability of “metanarratives” corresponding to underlying reality and idea that everything is socially constructed can be a difficult path to walk without falling into scylla on one side or charbydis on the other. After all, social construction is almost certainly a factor, but the social constructions are out of something, or grounded in something not reducible to mere social agreement. I won’t feign to debunk the more radical threads of deconstructive postmodernism in a sentence (there are more constructive postmoderisms too, but that’s another rabbit trail). But that’s a starting point.

    • Thanks, A! I think Meta-Smokey is actually a better title for what I am thinking than Shalom Smokey, so I think I will switch. Perhaps something like “The Meta-Smokey Discourses”? Perhaps someone out there could draw a Smokey Bear with a tweed jacket and a pipe, looking thoughtful?

      What you’ve drawn attention to is the question “what is truth” or “what is a fact?” Needless to say I am not a post-modernist (not sure I was even a modernist). Which we talk about sometimes with regard to issues/ research papers and suchlike.

      But what underlies these long-standing disputes? This will be a place to talk about that, including posts from folks who have ideas, including Anonymous people. Also occasionally people say things in passing that we might want to engage on (say, broad political stuff) and this can be the place to talk about that. In a way, it could be a distraction from the main focus (sharing news and views) but it could help our mutual understanding of ultimately where we are coming from and why we think the way we do. Or at least in my mind, it’s worth a try.


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