I have a minor annual tradition (as in, I did it once) of beginning the year with a short list of arguments that I am no longer going to have. As I said when I produced the first such list, while not necessarily claiming to have the definitive truth on these subjects, my views
“Are no longer up for argument, pending absolutely spectacular new evidence. I’ve had a number of arguments on all of these points over the last year; I’ve heard all sides, and I’ve made up my mind. If anyone has an argument which they genuinely believe to be new, go ahead, but don’t expect much. Please note also that I am no longer interested in methodological debates over the merits of statistical studies which purport to prove the matter one way or another on any of these propositions.”
It’s basically a way of clearing the decks of old pointless arguments, leaving room for new pointless and bitter arguments (I hope to post next week a short list of things that I plan to argue about a heck of a lot more, being a list of tacit assumptions made by other people that I regard as highly questionable). If you want to have a last go on any of the short list below, now’s the time, but otherwise it is books closed, I’m afraid; I have made a reasonable donation to the Grice United Fund which ought to cover any genuinely deserving intellectual charity cases. So here’s the list – it’s actually shorter than previous years.
Communist iconography, such as posters and t-shirts of Che Guevara, the equivalent of Nazi insignia. Members and ex-members of Communist parties in Western Europe and the USA, the equivalent of war criminals. In general, the use of inflated rhetoric about Stalinist or Maoist massacres as a debating technique [DISAGREE].
Basically, chaps, the joke has been made, the reds have been baited, the pearls have been clutched and we are all now well aware of how bloody, bloody, fucking awful Josef Stalin was. So the two steps forward we can take are:
- To repeat the exercise with respect to the British Empire, and all pretend to faint at the sight of the Union Flag, write sarcastic obituaries of old Tories, etc
- To all grow up a bit.
Prediction markets, extraordinarily powerful, predictive, useful, generative of epistemic free lunches galore, to be promoted in all sorts of areas as solutions to practical problems, etc [DISAGREE]
As I say, I think I’ve put in the hard yards here and I agree with John (and broadly with this working paper which Henry emailed me, thanks); they are reasonably good at summarising already public information, but not more than that, and I have not, after many attempts, been convinced that there is any particular reason to believe that any of the projected schemes for applying them very widely would have anything like the results claimed. I’m sure this debate will continue, but it will do so ex me.
God, non-existence and/or general perniciousness of as a vital matter for public debate. Moderate amounts of publicly financed god-bothering as an inevitable first step on the road to theocracy. Teaching of evolution to people who don’t want to learn it as a vital goal of public policy. [DISAGREE]
Entirely agree with Jamie here that a sensible man does not spend his precious and decidedly finite waking hours talking or thinking in any great depth about that in which he does not believe. The amount of time and energy poured into this bottomless pit by passionate, intelligent and liberal individuals who could be doing Avogadro’s number of more worthwhile things is enough to make me want to weep. I particularly won’t be reading or discussing any of the books on the subject unless and until I get hold of a series of the original and canonical texts by Oolon Colluphid.
Educational standards in UK, no worse than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago and probably substantially better. [AGREE]
Again, I’ve looked at the evidence on this and more or less made up my mind. In particular, I’m not in the market for arguments which rely on, say, a physics exam being “more difficult” in the past because it used to require the memorisation of a list of formulas. The same exam could be made even more difficult by turning out all the lights and making candidates wear boxing gloves, but this would not have much to do with the standard of physics learning either (I don’t believe that standards of driving have declined due to the obsolescence of double-declutching, or that standards of football have declined due to the invention of laceless balls). Also not in the market for anything based on anecdotal evidence about university graduates who can’t spell, simply on the basis of the number of intelligent, well-educated people who can’t spell.
The Years 1960-69, popular culture, Marxist political philosophy and theories of education prevalent during, not very important for the understanding or analysis of any social trends today [AGREE]
It is “Twenty Years Ago Today” that people wrote their first articles saying that it was “Twenty Years Ago Today” that the Beatles sang that it was “Twenty Years Ago Today” at the start of Sergeant Pepper. Even if you entered the teaching profession as a brand new graduate in September of 1969, you would be reaching retirement age this year. The Vietnam War is now as far in the past as the Second World War was at the beginning of the Vietnam War. There has, basically, been at least one complete political and cultural generation turned over since the 1960s. I therefore declare 2008 to be officially The Year That We No Longer Have The 1960s To Blame. Making a small exception for the purely demographic effects of the Baby Boomers on economic and political issues of relevance, any and all remaining social problems are our own fault. To suggest that German football fans might start singing “Three World Cups and No Gulf War, Doo Dah” at international fixtures is probably irrelevant to this topic, but I like the joke so much I am determined to shoe-horn it in anyway.
And there we are. Next week, I hope, a list of the arguments I intend to be having, in spades.