Barry SCHWARTZ (Barijo ŜVARC) (chemoelectric) wrote,

The Copernican revolution

A well known example of the principle I discussed in my previous entry is the Copernican revolution. By this I mean the change from an Earth-centered theory of the motions of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets, to a Sun-centered view. Every new discovery of the motions of the planets could be explained by further complication of the Earth-centered theory. This is a case of retaining a prior conclusion despite the discovery of new data relevant to the correctness of that conclusion. Discarding the prior conclusion was necessary for further theoretical advancement, and improved understanding of all the available data. (Later data required re-evaluation of the Sun-centered theory, but that fact reinforces my point.)

As I mentioned in my previous LJ entry, failure to drop a prior conclusion in the face of new data is, in the general case, equivalent to an assumption that the new data is irrelevant to the conclusion. In "real" life, to a point, that can be a reasonable assumption. It would be overwhelming to have to continually re-evaluate every inference we've ever made, because we are continually obtaining new and possibly relevant data. As a rule of thumb, we should do our more thorough re-evaluations when we find ourselves beating our heads against the wall.

Maybe the hardest thing to do is to recognize when you are beating are head against the wall. In the fibromyalgia syndrome that I've supposedly got, if I stay in a position, within a few minutes it becomes painful unless I move; but often I don't realize I was in pain until I've moved. The human brain has fibromyalgia. The point to which I am a little condescendingly and rudely getting is that I think we must drop our assumptions about what sort of a nation the United States is right now. Not over the course of our lives, but right now. If you took the sorts of facts and suspicions to which I allude in my postings, and which can be found in newsblogs and the foreign media, and you were just learning this stuff about a nation about which you had no previous conclusions, what would you think? Go back to 2000, and assume you'd never heard of the "USA" before, so you had no opinion about it beforehand. The "president" of this "USA" is "elected" after the nation's supreme court prevents a recount in a key province. The "president's" brother, governor of the province, is found to have arbitrarily disenfranchised enough political opponents to reverse even the original vote count. It turns out, furthermore, that the "president's" first cousin was responsible for the media declaring the election's "winner" prematurely. You'd call it a banana republic, though you would have to change that conclusion slightly upon discovering that this "USA" was the world's leading power.

I think that if you were to evaluate the USA of 2000 that way, it would come as no surprise when you later discovered the "president" trying to impose a military "Pax Americana," formalizing torture, and so forth. It is not too late to re-evaluate in light of such new facts.

Maybe my evaluations are excessive. I think, though, that in general I am conservative and cautious politically. I have never cared to question the circumstances of President Kennedy's death, which is a popular pasttime. I did not oppose either war against Iraq, and at least in the more recent case I think it would be correct to call me a supporter of the invasion. I did not agree to consider Bush a pathological narcissist like Saddam, despite getting that very evaluation from a professional psychotherapist, until Bush proclaimed himself the greatest supporter of civil rights ever to occupy the White House. I was cautious and demanded extraordinary evidence, which Bush eventually provided. I made that re-evaluation only just in time not to be shocked by Abu Ghraib and the torture memos; and it explained in retrospect the "jokes" about wanting to be dictator and the making fun of Karla Faye Tucker.

I don't take seriously the suggestions that Paul Wellstone was murdered. I'm happy with the explanation that Wellstone's pilot was insufficiently competent. Neither do I give much consideration to suggestions that Jim Hatfield was murdered; suicide seems to me consistent with Hatfield's life history and the situation in which he found himself. In short, I just don't go there. Yet this time, for the first time, I believe we are dealing with people who kill casually. Even Nixon turned down an offer to have opponents killed. But I don't think Bush would turn that down, if it seemed an effective option. In fact, I think Bush would pump his fist and feel invigorated by this exercise of power.

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