Saturday, April 01, 2017

What makes you angry?

I ran across the "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize" line attributed to Voltaire. Since Voltaire made a fairly successful career doing just that, it didn’t sound quite his style--and apparently the line is of fairly recent coinage, and is attributed to a fellow who doesn’t like Jews.

The first time I ran across it, it seemed a little extravagant but mildly plausible—but I remembered reading about complaints in the army, and the principle started to seem less than universally accurate: more of a matter of "who are the favored ones" than "who rules." They aren’t the same people. In academia there most certainly are people who, if you criticize them, you risk your career. Mentioning some topics will kill it dead. Anybody remember Lawrence Summers?

To say it more accurately: "To find out who the favored ones are, find out who you aren’t allowed to criticize or make fun of." Zzzzz.

Still, the idea of probing the structure of something with humor or criticism might have some potential.

Who do you really worship? I know a number of people who, if you mock God, will have a very mild response. If you mock their president (current or previous, depending on their tribe) they go ape. I get it that we have an obligation to protect the honor of family and friends, and think it reasonable to rise to their defense. But realistically, the president is only your friend in abstract. Maybe you met him once, but you don't know him. If, on the other hand, he is the one you put your trust in, the symbol of all you hold dear, perhaps you are putting him in a role only another can fill.

Screwtape wrote of "God And" as a tool to pry people away from God. Do my reactions tell of my God or my And?

I often hear of some Muslims going ape when someone disses Muhammad or the Koran, but rarely hear of them getting angry when someone complains about God. (It does sometimes happen.)

Some of us get bent out of shape by lies. We often get more bent out of shape by lies about us or our tribe, of course, but insofar as we try to be even-handed this seems like a love of truth and a good thing. But when you jump to oppose some lies and not others, perhaps you've let your "And" rule.

I feel a strong urge to jump in when somebody starts munging(*) up something about physics or astronomy, but it generally doesn’t make me angry. On the other hand, when somebody starts claiming that the moon landings were faked, I find that I start with some invidious (and usually accurate) assumptions about his willingness to review evidence. It doesn’t mean that I think the moon landings are more holy than F=ma. So my reaction doesn’t map neatly onto deeply held beliefs; it’s a mix of my gut reaction to the issue and my reaction to you.

When I mentioned in one circle the rather obvious fact that Hillary was a bad candidate (**) the others assumed that I meant that I disliked her character and her politics. That is true, but not what I was talking about--their reaction was also to an assumption, that I was announcing membership in a different tribe.

So I think this probe is most useful in self-examination. It is too easy to make mistakes applying it to other people. Though one is sometimes tempted to draw conclusions from obvious cases...

(*) Mung: recursive acronym for Mung Until No Good

(**) Just count the signs up for her in Madison vs those for Obama 4 years earlier, and compare with the number for the senate candidate. Reliably Democratic Madison wasn’t very enthusiastic at all. Not a good candidate...

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I linked to a post of yours in a Quora answer of my own. Let me know if you get any trouble from it, as Quora has trolls.