Among other things, this pandemic has shown the danger of innumeracy. Over the past few weeks, many have tried to minimise the effects of the pandemic by posting blogs and memes listing absolutely accurate statistics that are also terrifying to the specialists tracking the number of infections. Just for example, many people said a fatality rate of 2.0 (or even 1.0) was about the same as that for influenza. Of course, a fatality rate of 2.0, would be 20 times as bad as the seasonal flu, and even 1.0 would be tens times as bad.
Among those posting information to minimise the effect of the pandemic were healthcare providers, including doctors who work with infectious diseases. Doctors trained in medicine and not risk assessment are not better at assessing risk and probabilities than the general population. The 1982 book, Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, edited by Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, and Paul Slovic, examined the ability of people, with several chapters devoted to medical professionals including doctors, to assess risk based on probabilities. People in general, including doctors, just aren’t that good at it.
Subsequent research in medicine has shown similar results. Without specific training in assessing risk based on statistics and probabilities, doctors are no better than the general public at making decisions. We all need a more robust understanding of statistics, probabilities, and risk assessment.
It would help us better understand the risk of pandemics, and it may help us better understand the risk posed by climate change. Many people still think it isn’t a big deal to have the average global temperature increase by 1 degree.
First of all, I guess you could get kind of crazy debating terms like “leftist,” “socialist,” “liberal,” “classical liberal,” and so on. And because of the risk of getting kind of crazy, I have no inclination to debate these terms. Let’s just say I believe in trying to make the world better by supporting things like accessible healthcare, accessible education, public libraries, maintained infrastructure, a habitable planet, and things of that nature. I try not to get freaked out by all the names thrown at people like me, and I try not to waste too much time trying to find the label that best fits.
But anyone would agree that I am not right-wing, conservative, alt-right, or any of that. So I think you’d say I’m on “the left” or “left of center.” What’s more, there are a few things I don’t like about the way other people on the left frame their debates. I wouldn’t dream of telling other people how to describe their own ideas, but I do dream of telling people how I like to describe my ideas, so here you go.
Free stuff—I don’t like all the talk about free stuff, whether it is education, healthcare, fire services, police protection, freeways, libraries, or air. Nothing is free, and we should all be able to agree on that. What I want is an equitable form of cost sharing. We all share the cost so that no one is left out. Why do I want my neighbor’s kids to get a free education, even if I don’t think I benefit directly? Because I want to live in a society where people are educated and empowered to share in the promotion of a functioning society. And I want their education to be useful beyond making them good employees.
Wealth distribution—Let’s face it, wealth is distributed. If wealth is going to exist at all, it will be distributed in some sort of pattern. It is absolutely pointless to say you are opposed to a patterned distribution of wealth. So you’re saying you’re actually just opposed to wealth re-distribution, which you imagine is a very different animal. You just don’t want your hard-earned money taken away through taxes to make someone better off. You can’t imagine that anyone else has done anything to make you better off, because you do not want to imagine that. Unlike some people on the left, I’m not saying rich people shouldn’t exist. I’m only saying that if rich people exist, poor people should not.
Market solutions—Some people anthropomorphize capital markets and claim they can fix all our problems. Sometimes entrepreneurs come up with some pretty good ideas, and that’s fine and dandy, but the people had good ideas, not the markets. Also, no markets are free. All markets are the products of the specific agreements various humans have put in place. Those agreements are constantly in flux and are subject to negotiation. “Free” markets do not exist. You will never find a market running wild in nature. I guess this is as good a place as any to say that I see no reason to completely eliminate private health insurance companies. It is only necessary to ensure that no one needs private health insurance.
Rights—to say everyone has a right to free speech is only to say I think society functions better when the government does not restrict speech in most cases. While some people believe “rights” come from God or nature or someplace else, you don’t have to believe that to use the word. It may annoy philosophers and political scientists, but a right is something someone thinks people should have. A “legal right” or “guaranteed right” is just something that was popular enough with people to be written in to law. Of course, it’s your right to believe whatever you want.
You might be thinking I should have some sort of summary conclusion or something, but I can assure you that I do not, so that’s that.
KM: Socrates liked Aspasia because she wasn’t a shrew, which is what he thought his wife, Xanthippe, was.
KIA: But Plato respected the opinions of Aspasia and Diotima.
KM: Because Aspasia knew how to manage a household and Diotima spoke of non-physical love as ideal Forms, but he had to invent Diotima to make his point.
KIA: Still, it was a woman who instructed the men on love.
KM: Yes, and she taught that the only true love was between men.
KIA: She taught that love was of the mind. Of ideas.
KM: And it is men, not women, who are ruled by their minds. Ultimately, The Symposium is just about Plato’s ideal forms, love being one of them. He speaks of true love between men because he didn’t see women as being capable of true understanding.
KIA: Not all the men. Not Alcibiades. He was a libertine and a horrible traitor to his country.
KM: And friend of Socrates—someone who wrestled with him, slept with him, and drank with him.
KIA: But Socrates rebuffed him.
KM: And everyone else. Or, all the men, anyway.
KIA: Socrates hated Alcibiades.
KM: But they slept together? As enemies do?
KIA: Again, nothing happened.
KM: Some might think naked wrestling is something.
KIA: But Socrates didn’t respond.
KM: I find it interesting that Alcibiades expected all wrestling matches to become sexual.
KIA: How do you know that?
KM: Why else would he be surprised that Socrates didn’t respond?
KIA: I think he was just disappointed Socrates didn’t return his feelings.
KM: Maybe it was just because Socrates was so old?
KIA: Socrates wasn’t interested because he was concerned with more important things.
KM: Maybe Socrates wasn’t interested because he wasn’t gay.
KIA: Socrates was a philosopher. Alcibiades wasn’t a serious thinker.
KM: Do you think Alcibiades might have represented Plato’s feelings?
KIA: What? Why?
KM: Well, I mean. Plato was gay, wasn’t he?
KIA: Why would you say that?
KM: Hey, remember in the Republic where it says women should do physical training like men? You know, naked? And it says it would be hard to look at the naked women, especially the ones who are ugly or old.
KIA: I’m sure he was just addressing the concerns of the day.
KM: Oh, I’m sure. By the way, who did Plato marry?
KIA: I don’t know. No one does.
KM: Socrates had two wives (see Myrto). So did Aristotle. If Plato had one, don’t you think someone would have mentioned it?
KIA: What does that matter, anyway?
KM: Well, it’s consistent with him being gay.
KIA: And why would Plato portray himself through such an awful person as Alcibiades?
KM: Maybe Plato wasn’t proud of his feelings.
KM: Maybe Plato wasn’t proud of his erotic love for Socrates, so he portrayed it in a disgusting manner.
KIA: Why wouldn’t he be proud? Homosexual relationships were encouraged in his society.
KM: I didn’t mean he was ashamed of being gay, but embarrassed that his own feelings for Socrates weren’t returned. Also, maybe being embarrassed by his less than “Platonic” love for Socrates. Also, it was Plato, not Alcibiades, who was the wrestling champion.
KIA: I think Plato was just committed to higher ideals.
KM: Or maybe Plato was wrestling with his own daimons, and he could only express them through a drunken Alcibiades.
KIA: That makes no sense.
KM: Did you see what I did there?
KM: Wrestling with his daimons? ‘Cause he was a wrestler? ‘Cause Alcibiades wrestled Socrates naked? ‘Cause daimons are spirits that impart wisdom and not demons?
KIA: Oh, yeah, I get it. Who do you think you are, anyway, Mark Henderson?
KM: If only Plato had made more puns instead of wrestling naked boys.
KIA: Like Socrates, Plato was a man of wisdom and honour, not a profligate!
KM: Sure. That’s why he shows the struggle only to have love of reason to win in the end. The lust of Alcibiades is defeated in the ultimate wrestling match.
KIA: Maybe he wasn’t interested in teenagers.
KM: Wasn’t Xanthippe a teenager at the time? You know, when Socrates married her.
In that book, Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre’s
Antoine Roquentin gets kind of freaked
Out just looking at the root of a chestnut tree.
I thought it was pretty weird at first,
Because how can you get through life
If you freak out every time you see a
Tree root or some fool thing like a tree root?
You couldn’t go on, could you? It’d just be
One crisis after another until you went
Insane and did yourself in, but then
I kind of get it. I mean, if you look at
Anything for awhile, it can get you thinking,
And thinking is always the risky part.
Once you start thinking, everything comes
Into question, and you might not even
Be able to tell if a root is real, or you
Might start to think the root is conscious
And is staring at you, or you might start
To wonder if you are real. I mean, you
Could be part of the consciousness of
The root, but it wouldn’t have to be a root,
Either, would it? Any damn thing can send
Your thoughts careering out of control,
And you might just start feeling a little
Overwhelmed. You might feel like you can’t really
Talk to anyone, because you’re not sure whether
They are like you. Maybe they don’t see the same
Colors. Maybe they don’t feel the same feelings.
Maybe you are the only one who knows what
Pain is. Or maybe you’re just a character in their story.
But Sartre said he never felt that kind
Of nausea, and now you think maybe he was
Just an asshole. Maybe he just thought up a
Lot of stupid shit just to make money off
People who were socially anxious like
Roquentin or just anxious generally.
It was all just a joke to Sartre and his
Mescaline addled buddies, but you are
Starting to see things more clearly now.
You’re starting to want to punch that jackass
In the face, and you finally realize
Albert Camus was right about everything.
A philosopher of mind,
It doesn’t matter who,
But it was Daniel Dennett,
Made a point of describing
To prove that animals might
React physically to pain
Without being conscious of it.
He illustrated this with the case of
Children who dissociate during
Sexual assaults. *
In a seminar, another prominent male
Philosopher turned to another and said,
“I dreamed I raped and murdered your wife.
Do I owe you an apology?”
A female philosopher left the room.
Thought experiments are expected to
Be free and provocative,
But haven’t we experimented enough
With thoughts of violence against
Women and girls to know where they lead?
*(Dennett said the child thinks, “’I’ am not undergoing this pain, “she” is.”)