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.