Antisemitism and the Church

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Antisemitism has always been a uniquely Christian problem. Our history of persecuting Jews long predates the creation of the Jewish state in Palestine, the root of so much anti-Jewish sentiment in the Muslim world today. That’s a whole other thing for a whole other time.

Antisemitism among Christians has systemic religious roots. It’s paradoxically a result of Christ’s passion and a radical indictment of our collective participation in and guilt for it.

The problem is the Church has often identified Jews as Christ-killers while denying our collective responsibility. We’ve forgotten that we also participate in Jesus’ death, not in some abstract he-bore-our-sins way but in a very direct, very active involvement in the sacrificial system that caused Jesus’ death in the first place.

We can’t deny that the passion was a good/bad thing. It brought about salvation for all but through a grisly process of injustice leading to the grave. The Jews and the Romans sacrifice Christ to keep the peace. After all is it not better for one man to die for the people than the whole nation perish? Pilate hand-waves away his complicity, but sacrifices Jesus anyway.

Jesus becomes the ultimate sacrifice to end sacrifice, doing what the sacrificial system and all proto-sacrificial systems could not do — instead of simply dying a victim, driven out of the camp and off a cliff, the sins of the people laid on him to break the cycle of retributive violence, he inverts the whole thing and rises again. He becomes not just another scapegoat, but a living, breathing victim, one that lays bare our crass self-interested perpetuation of a cycle of religious violence against the weak and disenfranchised, the foreigner and outcast. Jesus identifies with those who are most likely sacrificed to the mob by himself being sacrificed by the mob. And by identifying with Jesus, we identify with those likely to be sacrificed to the mob as well.

This is how we deconstruct the mob, how we break the cycle of religious violence, and why the scapegoating and persecution of Jews is such an endemic feature of Christian societies.

I think the problem is that we’ve embraced philosophies of Christ’s death that enable us to do this. Substitutionary atonement (not nearly as unanimous a theory as our modern fundamentalism would suggest) allows us to divorce the benefits of the cross from participation in it. We identify with Jesus in his death, but as the sacrifice, not as the mob. We have a third party for that — the Jews (and the Romans to a lesser extent). Even the disciples are complicit as they turn their backs on him and deny him for fear of dying with him.

Divorcing ourselves from our participation in the system of sacrifice that indicts us as well as the Jews allows us to do exactly what the death of Jesus was meant to prevent: Neurotically persecute the visible minority in our midst under obviously false pretenses.

There’s nothing wrong with identifying with Christ in his death and rising again, after all that’s what baptism is for, right? But it’s important to remember what Jesus death saves us from. And when we scapegoat and victimize and marginalize and persecute Jews, we are in practice identifying with Jesus’ killers. Not with Jesus. In these acts of communal violence against the visible outsider, we have perverted and inverted the meaning of the cross. We’ve absolutely failed to understand the meaning of the passion.

The thing to remember here is that the cycle of religious violence, of mobs rising up against the visible minority, of a burst of collective violence against a sacrificial victim that heaps our collective retributive violence on his or her head… this is the human condition. This our default setting. This is Sin with a capital S. This is what Jesus comes to end by exposing the cycle of religious violence for what it is.

It’s a hard lesson, one that we often fail to learn. Look at the US, a nominally Christian nation, turning against the sojourner or minority in its midst (the Muslim, the black person). It’s not a coincidence that these effects are most strong amongst fundamentalists who don’t understand their own symbols.

What’s odd is that fundamentalists in the US, which seems to have most of them, by and large almost reverence Jews and the Holy Land today. This is the result of some really oddball eschatology, not of really understanding what the cross is about and what it means to identify with and follow Christ. It almost feels like a kind of diagnostic over-reaction to the problem of antisemitism.

In any case it’s important for the church to come to grips with what it means to follow Christ. When we identify with him, we identify with his death. We remember that Jesus’ passion was an act of injustice, a grossly wrong and evil sacrifice of a victim who had done no wrong. We identify with his resurrection, an act of power over death that exposes the principalities and powers of this world, that exposes them and triumphs over their violent sacrificial systems by demythologizing them and laying their crassness bare. We no longer participate in systems of ritual purity designed to separate the sheep from the goats; we no longer say do not touch and do not eat and do not handle, because we are the goats.

We die with Christ to this elemental spiritual force of the world, how can we still participate in it? How can we neurotically scapegoat the Jew, the Muslim, the poor, the disenfranchised? How can we identify as Christ-killers, subject to the mythology of the sacrificial victim, purposely averting our eyes from the lies and false pretenses of our sacrificial system, when we have been raised with him?

All Lives Matter?

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“All Lives Matter” is a reaction to “Black Lives Matter” which is a reaction to police systematically murdering black people in the US and the judicial system largely turning a blind eye.

It’s one of those things that sounds right but means wrong, you know? Like when the government names a bill “The Freedom Protection Act” or something, you can assume it’s pretty much the opposite of that.

When you say that, it sounds like you mean that you care equally about all lives; how can anyone argue about that? But what you actually mean is you want to ignore the voices raised in protest. You want to silence them by co-opting their expression and turning it into a muzzle.

The problem is it’s really effective. And it’s seductive. Oh, so you care about black lives? Well, I (invariably a white person) care about ALL LIVES[1].

Thing is, you can’t look at language in a vacuum. Context matters. And context like white people at a rally beating a black man while chanting “All Lives Matter” matters. The action lays the truth bare.

I’ve talked about dogwhistles before, and “All Lives Matter” is rapidly becoming one for racists and people invested in the status quo.

It doesn’t mean anything about which lives matter at all. It doesn’t mean “yes, and…”.

It means “shut up”.

[1] – The society we live in gives lie to this: Non-male, non-white people are systematically oppressed. I mean, they’re not literally whipped and enslaved anymore but all kinds of avenues of advancement are denied them, consciously or not. And just because you think you’re not personally complicit in this doesn’t mean you’re not. Especially if you’re a Christian, this just isn’t tenable. God is a God who desires justice, who cares about widows and orphans. Christ himself, our primary means of identifying with God, is a victim. Identity with Jesus means identity with the oppressed and victimized, not denial about who the oppressed and victimized are.

Your sermon illustration is bad and you should feel bad

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This is Garfield.

It is a thing that exists, and continues to exist, in this world.

There is one thing I can assure you of, though: The people who like Garfield, the people who even think about Garfield are not long for this world. I give it another 10-20 years.

Anyone under 30 might enjoy Garfield from time to time, or as a parody of itself, or remixed into something else (like Garfield without Garfield). But we’ve moved on. Garfield is a thing for another generation.

So we can understand why it exists and even understand why it continues to exist, but it’s not for us, right?

That’s your sermon illustration… illustrated.

I recently started listening to a sermon from a church I was once a part of. Mostly out of curiosity, just to see how the preaching is going. The bad news there is I ragequit after two minutes. Because the sermon opened with a “funny” story, a joke really.

That’s a bit of extreme reaction without any context. But still, it’s what I feel when I have to sit through one in real life. I feel like walking out. Again, an extreme reaction, but it’s how I feel.

This might sound like a nitpick. It might be a nitpick. Or it might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, because generally the types of preachers who do this are preaching from some kind of 1990s preaching playbook that always, always makes them mediocre at their job.

I live in a world where things are signifiers. If I go to a website and it looks like the Space Jam website or something from Geocities, I don’t expect a quality experience. If I buy a book thas has a terrible cover, I don’t expect a good read.

You telegraph your intentions at the start of the things you do. Storefronts, cover, beginnings of sermons, you get the picture.

When you tell a cheesy, “funny” story to start your sermon, you’re diminishing your role as a preacher of truth, as a sayer of difficult things, as a messenger of God.

But not only do you insult yourself, you insult me. You assume that I have to be eased into whatever you’re saying with some kind of tangentially related mini-parable.

You don’t need to worry about that, man. I’m already at church. I’ve already bought the package deal, I’m probably there for the whole thing. If your hook is this thing you got from a book of stories to tell before a sermon or whatever, you’re already doing me a disservice. This isn’t to say preachers can’t be funny, some are very funny from time to time (bless your heart, Mark), but that has to be a natural thing, not a pre-packaged, scripted, safe-for-all-ages groanfest.

Maybe this makes me super-millenial or something, but I don’t need my funny bone greased up and massaged to transition me from the singing to the not singing, you know?

What would you think of a newspaper that put Garfield on it’s front page, above the headlines every single day? Would you take that seriously? I sure wouldn’t. Or if Google News was like… I know you came here to find out serious stuff about the world and whatever, but first have a GARFIELD to take a load off!

Axiomatic: Free Speech

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I’ve said before that modern skeptics are lazy and pointed in the wrong direction. I still believe that.

But there’s kind of larger point there. Humans are lazy and pointed in the wrong directions.

How often have you thought about free speech? If you’re like me and you frequent the places I frequent… once a week or so? I mean, it comes up all the time. Usually in some circumstance where that freedom is being abrogated somewhere in the world. There is (justifiably, I think) a real concern about freedom of speech and its defense.

Still, there’s a kind of defacto acceptance, especially with young, white, tech-literate males, that freedom of speech is a natural state, an unassailable good, something obvious (or as they say in the US, self-evident).

Is it?

I mean, there’s nothing particularly obvious about it. Like everything else, it’s just something people made up. It might be a hard-won evolution of centuries of experimenting with despots, but it’s not obvious.

There’s also an assumption that freedom of speech is binary. It isn’t that either. I mean, it’s not like you can say everything or nothing. Even in the US, the government will not protect dangerous speech (yelling “fire” in a crowded theater). How different is that from inciting violence against a particular race or gender via words?

Clearly, there’s a spectrum there. And yes, there’s an argument to made that offensive speech should be allowed (if not encouraged), but there’s also a strong opposing argument that allowing dangerously offensive speech to propagate by being spoken is something society simply should not accept.

Finally, there’s an assumption that freedom of speech applies in all domains, everywhere. Which is the most obviously wrong. Any freedom is context sensitive. The problem tends to be that people confuse the implementation with the philosophy. The implementation is that the government should regulate speech as little as possible; the philosophy tends to be expressed as “anyone, anything, anywhere”.

Then we whittle down who is anyone (Children? Genocidal Mass Murderers?), what is anything (Snuff porn? Obscenities? White power manifestos?), and what is anywhere (Work? School? A wedding?). And when the free speech advocate is done, we’re in the same place the “pure philosophy” view is meant to get around: Speech is messy, context is important, and there are some things which society as a whole has decided should not be tolerated.

Not servants, but sons

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The son comes back from squandering his portion of the estate on hookers and booze. He says to himself, There’s no way my father will take me back as a son, but perhaps he will take me back as a servant.

He’s wrong of course, and this is the Christian story’s difference. You aren’t asked to approach as a beggar, as a servant, but as a child.

The Spirit we receive does not make us slaves, but heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Or to put it another way, not servants, but sons.

The Deeper Magic

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When I was young, I read the Chronicles of Narnia again and again. Not as much as read Swiss Family Robinson. But a lot.

There’s this passage I really hate in The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, where Aslan has been brought back to life, having been ritually slaughtered by the White Witch. He explains why he’s alive. It goes a bit like this:

It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.

Now, the lack of subtlety in the book aside (its intentions and allusions are written very much on its sleeve), this bit of text feels a bit like cheating. It feels like a deus ex machina, except instead of something semi-badass (the Eagles are coming!), it’s some yadda yadda. A bit of exposition to plaster over the why of it all.

I still kind of hate it.

But I also appreciate it. Not because of what it says on its face, but because (pardon the meta here) of the deeper magic it contains.

I think I’m the White Witch. But you don’t get off the hook: You’re the White Witch too.

The White Witch is someone who has glanced at something and accepted what she has found. She’s gotten the explanation she wants, and she’ll look no further. She finds the thing that lets her kill the lion but doesn’t find the next thing, the thing that lets the lion kill her.

The next thing is important.

I think a lot of thing have this deeper magic. I think we should keep digging. I think simple explanations are too easy, that there is more behind the curtain.

I think “thus far and no further” is never far enough.

Let’s talk about your meritocracy

So yeah, you want a meritocracy.

Presumably you think that you, or people like you who do the choosing, can do it on merit.

Okay.

Let’s pretend I don’t care about the particulars. Let’s keep this completely abstract (always a bad idea, but indulge me). Let’s say we don’t need to think about pesky things like history, context, or justice.

What is merit?

I mean, you need to know what merit is before you screw some ocracy onto it, right?

So what is it?

Welp, we’re done with the abstract. There’s no abstracting merit because merit is inherently context-sensitive. I mean, you can say a meritocracy is a system where the best person for the job gets it. But that just kicks that can further down the hall. What is “best”?

Again we have to step out of the abstract and into the concrete.

Which is hard, because fundamentally, you need to trust the people making the decisions to judge merit correctly, to identify what merit is and then figure out if a person has it or not.

Would you drive your car without insurance? Do you not check receipts after you purchase something to make sure everything’s okay? Do you leave your house unlocked at night while you sleep?

Of course you don’t. People will take advantage of you, or people will make mistakes. You’ll get screwed.

Yet somehow in abstract magical meritland, the people making the decisions will, what, cast off their humanity and become merit-judging robots?

Of course they won’t. And they don’t. In the places where meritocracies supposedly operate (I think, in particular, of Linux kernel development), mostly men with mostly a particular kind of personality have this quality of “merit”.

This diminishes the kind of work these places can do, by the way. Diversity of viewpoint isn’t a weakness. A monoculture of a particular kind of thought is a weakness, and this is what meritocracies foster. Because the people doing the choosing are human and humans are very bad judges of just about anything you can think of.

We build checks into our systems to help us be less us. We build safeguards, we try to rectify past mistakes, we try to slant “the system” away from treating badly the people it has treated badly for so long. We don’t live in a meritocracy because living in a meritocracy is brutality. It has to be, in this world, with these humans running things.

This brings up a lot of questions. Like, “So I should hire the person based on… what then?” Or, “How do we make decisions?”

The answer I have for that is largely unsatisfying to a particular type of person, because it’s kind of not really an answer. Because there’s no god-breathed book that fell out of the sky that tells us how to make political appointments or hire janitors. The answer is… we decide. We decide as a society how we make these decisions. We have quotas and non-discriminatory hiring practices for a reason. That reason is because… we decided that was a more just society.

Again, I know this will probably frustrate some of you. But that’s what a society is.

But all this abstract talk about meritocracy is fiddle-faddle. No one seriously thinks there should be a meritocracy (well, except for a few exceptionally out-to-lunch nerds). And for those who do believe in meritocracy, you better find a new word. Because…

Meritocracy is now a dogwhistle. The same way “family values” is a dogwhistle. It’s a way of communicating something in polite company, a sort of code, or camouflage. It wasn’t always this way, but among educated white men, meritocracy is a codeword in the same way “white genocide” is a code word for racists.

It’s way of seeming rational but actually being sexist and racist and generally just not a very good human being.

You say “meritocracy” but what you mean is that you are fundamentally offended by the idea of a woman or another race having priority over you. Even when the priority is hypothetical.

The reason this is sexist (mostly sexist) and/or racist is that you believe, if all things were put to rights, if everything were as it should be you would be the one being chosen. You will never explicitly say you’d be chosen because of your superiority (and the fact that you happen to be male, and white), but that’s what you truly believe. In your libertarian paradise, of course, of course you would be a Job Creator. You wouldn’t be oppressed, surely not!

The reality of your situation is that you’re probably right.

And that’s kind of sad.

If we didn’t push back against our human natures using crude tools like gender/race quotas, you’d probably come out ahead. I mean, why wouldn’t you? You always have. 1

And you just won’t acknowledge that the scales are tilted in your favour.

And that’s why meritocracy could never work. Because you will never be honest with yourself about the advantages you received, and neither will your boss, and your boss’s boss, or the CEO, or the President, or the Kind of the World. Unless they are forced to.

1. Before you start yelling at me that you-in-particular haven’t had much success, that you weren’t raised with gold dust sprinkled in your diapers, please consider that English is a fairly imprecise language: I mean you-as-a-group, not you-in-particular.

The Persecution-Industrial Complex

American Christianity (to paint with a wide brush, and I include Canadians in this category too) has a strange relationship with nuance.

Consider persecution.

Scripture says that Christ’s followers will be persecuted. If you’re a “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” type, this is sort of a problem. Isn’t it? When you live a nation founded on Christian principles (which I won’t dispute; it was birthed out of the Enlightenment, which you don’t really get to understand except as an extension of Christian thought), where the vast majority identify as Christian, it’s hard to imagine why you’d be persecuted.

A slightly more nuanced reading would seek to understand the context into which “you will be persecuted” was written, but suppose for a moment you don’t care about that, and you just want carte blanche to be a Bible Believing Christian who takes all the stuff at face value.

Then it’s a problem. A big problem.

There’s lots of persecution in the world. There are lots of places in the world where being a Christian can get you killed. This is terrible. The world is full of injustice and wrongdoing still, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.

The problem is when you start using persecution as evidence of faith. That logic train is easy.

Sometimes I think you’d have to be a crazy person to think that there’s any real systemic persecution in the USA and Canada. Yet there are all kinds of evangelical Christians who truly believe that the persecution has begun. Or if it hasn’t begun, we’re just on the cusp of Christian churches being burned down and Christians being forced to convert to… something. Liberalism? I dunno.

Despite evangelicals being a vastly powerful group with their own political party and lobby groups and mountains of cash, the church seems beset upon on all sides. And there’s a cottage industry of authors and (lately, unfortunately, and just barely) filmmakers who peddle this message to make a quick buck.

It’s bonkers.

But you understand why this has to be, right? It’s the equivalent of First World Problems. Once your basic needs have been met, as they have in the West, twice over, the animal part of your brain doesn’t shut off the predator/problem-seeking part of your brain. That’s all still in there. And so, when you lose your remote, or the internet goes down, or your dishsoap no longer contains phosphorous, or you can’t find the right craft beer, or your car doesn’t connect to Bluetooth quite quickly enough, you bitch and moan like someone just added an extra 10 pounds to your daily cotton quota.

Exacerbating that, American Christians also have the Bible saying that they should be persecuted! So we get out our first-world-problems magnifying glass, tape over the logo with persecution-finder and scour the land for injustices that must surely be happening at the hands of those (invisible, imaginary) oppressors of the Church. With typical conspiracy-enthusiast enthusiasm, when we don’t find much we take that as evidence that the devil is doing just a devilishly good job at hiding it from us.

Along comes some thrice-married county clerk deciding to take a stand for the sanctity of marriage. At last our martyr has arrived!

The persecution-industrial complex kicks into high gear, a temple is erected (complete with an altar to the media), and the money changers assemble at the gates. Out roll the vans with the signs and all around the country our megachurches denounce, and our political candidates froth, and our news channel rages. The persecution has finally and truly begun! The end is near! We’re good Christians, look how we’re being persecuted!

The 0.9% of Americans who identify as Muslims, and who can actually claim to be systemically persecuted there, must think American Christians are absolutely insane.

Why nerds hate analogies

Nerds hate analogies. I know this because I hate analogies. I know this because I nitpick analogies. Well, I used to.

I’m not using the word nerd pejoratively here. I’m using it as a sort of shorthand for sciency techy people who like facts and logic. So basically… me.

But why? Why do nerds hate analogies? I’ve thought about this for a while and I think I’ve got a bit of a handle on it. Then again I might be full of crap. So don’t listen too closely.

I think this all has to do with arguments.

What Is An Argument

This is a terrible place to start. Sorry for that. But I’m not actually asking what an argument is. That’s pretty obvious, like asking what a star is. An argument is when you have two people with different points of view talking. That’s it.

What happens after that isn’t at all obvious. Because we can all agree what arguments are but we can’t seem to figure out what arguments are for. Like… why do we have them?

For some people, this is like asking what stars are for. They just are! It’s all very obvious.

But as with everything, it’s not so obvious at all. There are at least two things to consider. One is what we say arguments are for. This is easy to figure out. Just ask anyone. You’ll get ten different answers, and different kinds of arguments have different timbres, but they’ll all tend to cluster around facts and logic and trying to get someone else to understand your (obviously correct) view. Leaving aside that other kind of argument, which is actually just a fight and a different beast altogether.

We talk about arguments like they’re debates. And that’s not a terrible way to think about the way we think about them. In an ideal world, two people with different points of view get to present their point of view, and then at the end we all sit down and agree who has the stronger argument. The loser submits, the winner comes out victorious, and facts and logic win the day.

Now if you read that and said “but that never happens!” to yourself, you’re absolutely right.

Because that’s not what arguments are at all. I know this. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen an argument that works like that.

Maybe I’m just hanging out with the wrong people. I don’t think I am. I think most, if not all people work this way. We say that arguments are about facts and logic and strengths of positions, and making good points, and having discussions that lead to agreement… Yet every argument I’ve seen leads to all the participants slinking away to find better arguments, not better positions.

People are slippery that way.

What Are Arguments For

Arguments actually function as a defense mechanism for things you’ve already decided. If you think there’s any semblance of some kind of scientific method in arguments (and a lot of the time in science, but that’s another matter altogether), you’re either a very special snowflake or a very deluded snowflake. I mean, you must know that your response to feeling like you’ve lost an argument, especially one you care deeply about, isn’t to throw your position out the window, but to figure out a better way to justify your existing beliefs.

Arguments are actually kind of traumatic. Someone has come along and is trying to mess up the internal consistency of your thought. Somewhere deep inside you know that your already have a crazy shortage of consistency, so your brain just needs to defend, defend, defend, until you can no longer defend. Then you take a shower the next morning and you have a bolt of insight!… that magically happens to bolster your position.

A Brief Word On Logic

Before I go any further down this path I want to talk about logic for a second.

Logic is a tool. So are a lot people who talk about it a lot. (Excepting people actually studying logic, but that’s a whole other thing.)

It’s a tool that can prove nonsense. Logic takes inputs and produces outputs. The problem is the age old problem of garbage in, garbage out. So let’s say you’re using logic and you feed it a bunch of false premises. You get a result that doesn’t make any sense.

That’s the problem with logic, right?

Well, no, not really. Because most of the people who use “logic” are actually using the word logic and not actual using logic.

I remember reading a book by Alvin Plantinga that had a lot of formal logic in it. I couldn’t make much sense of it because I’m very much not Alvin Plantinga. But the point remains, we just don’t use formal logic. Or really even informal logic.

Or really logic at all. We say “logic” but we mean “this makes sense to me”.

The really annoying result of this is people who use logical fallacies as counter-arguments. Straw man! Appeal to authority! Appeal to the stone! Ad hominem!

Here we have a bunch of yammering ninnies who know enough to critique the informal logic of a statement without actually examining its soundness. Remember, just because some argument has a logical fallacy doesn’t mean it’s not true! (You could almost say that an argument from logical fallacy is… a logical fallacy. But then the snake begins to eat its own tail and universe is divided by zero or something.) That you can analyze a statement by scrolling through a Wikipedia page doesn’t prove or disprove anything.

Okay, so it maybe proves that you’re a jackass. But that’s beside the point.

A Brief Word On A Brief Word On Logic

So why am I talking about logic, other than to gripe about some internet knownothings?

It’s because it’s important to what I’m about to say. I don’t know how to express this well, so I’ll tell you a story.

I knew a guy who was very concerned about facts and logic. He was always talking about is this logical, is that logical. He would take really defined stances on things based on logic (which wasn’t actual logic mind you, just whether or not he could make something make sense to himself). He wasn’t doing anything wrong, not at all. I was really impressed with the amount of thought he put into doing thing that other people just did.

He didn’t like to speed on the highway. Because the speed limit was a law, just like not setting fire to a nunnery was a law, and if we sped on the highway, didn’t that mean that we were also implicitly approving of burning down that nunnery? (There’s a deeper law about speeding on the highway called “not putting your family in danger by obstructing the flow of traffic”, but I didn’t come to that idea until later.) For a while I was very impressed with this argument, except that I kept speeding anyways.

I was impressed but not persuaded. I might have agreed, intellectually, about this kind of absolutist framework of viewing the law as a monolithic entity where speeding and murder were on the same level. But it didn’t change my behaviour. I actually wondered about that a few times. I didn’t realise at the time that I actually didn’t agree. I just couldn’t put into words my objections, which weren’t logical and rational and didn’t have the hollow ring of facts about them, but were actually simply that some laws are law-eyer than others, and that morality isn’t decided by a penal code.

Persuasion is important. Think of all the things you’ve been persuaded to do for love. You may have even converted to a religion for love (and meant it!). Look at all the people who suddenly become devout Christians or Jews or what have you, exactly when it’s conveniently required. Love has this way of making up your mind for you. There’s all kind of stuff that suddenly clicks into place. You become a different person, or at least a different kind of person.

Love kind of short circuits the bits of your brain that want to grasp the facade of logic.

And so do analogies.

An Analogy From Analogies

If you’re a good nerd, you probably hate the meandering train of reasoning I used to get here. I made a few analogies, talked about logic, told a story, then made another analogy. That’s okay!

I did it all on purpose.

Sorry.

The point I’m trying to make is that logic is a domain-specific thing that has certain uses. Arguments are domain-specific things that have certain uses. They are technically meant to do one thing but are press-ganged into doing another, more pernicious thing, which is defense of pre-existing positions.

Analogies are different.

They’re not about facts. They’re about state transfer. By using an analogy, you’re trying to express to someone else your state of mind. You’re making a comparison that is meant to explain to someone why you feel a certain way without using tools like logic and arguments.

It feels a bit like cheating.

There’s a long oral tradition of using extended analogues (aka parables) to help people understand something. You may not like this. If you’re a super-nerd you’ll probably say something like Well, that’s because human minds are silly things that evolved to take stories more seriously than logic and facts. Because after all, the end goal of humanity should be to become correct-thinking computers, right? All this mushy meat instead of the glorious computational accuracy of silicon! What a shame.

That may be. But the reality remains that we are human, and we do respond to stories and analogies and anecdotes far better than we do to lists of facts.

Like, it’s safer to send your kids to the park down the street than it is to let them play in your backyard… if you have a pool. But we don’t fear the pool because we know the pool. We fear the child-snatcher because that narrative has potency.

Analogies are essentially stories, right? And they function in the same way stories do. They provide a slight narrative, they give a small insight into how you think.

Analogies are tools of persuasion. They’re not tools of argument and defense. They can be used that way and maybe even often are, but they’re particularly hard to “defend” against.

But we’re going to try anyways!

Pay No Attention To The Analogy Behind The Curtain

There’s no good way to respond to an analogy without responding in kind. A better analogy. But then you get trapped in an analogy loop where everyone is agreeing to disagree because we all kind of understand where each other is coming from. And we can’t have that.

So the standard nerd turns to the standard nerd toolbox to defeat the analogy…

Logic will save the day!

If analogies short-circuit the logic/argument paradigm, there’s only one way to get back on the offence. Pick apart the analogy. It’s not exact enough! The analogy breaks down! It’s not good! Make a better analogy!

This is all standard stuff. But you have to understand that it’s a distraction the same way presenting a logic fallacy is a distraction. It’s not really salient. We all know analogies are inexact and break down somewhere. If they didn’t break down they’d just be exact descriptions of the argument at hand and would lose their usefulness. Which, come to think of it, if you’re of that sort of disposition, is exactly what you want.

So you nitpick the analogy until it breaks down, wash your hands, and pretend it’s been a good day’s work. The analogy has been short-circuited, and we’re back to logic/argument land, where the free-flowing dialogue can go on forever with no one ever having to adopt a different (read: unsettling, new) opinion.

Persuasion

My point is that analogies are tools of persuasion.

Arguments are not.

Analogies are state transfers.

Arguments are not.

Analogies can be effective.

Argument are almost always not.

Analogies aren’t the only tool of persuasion. It’s just one of many. It might not even be a very good one. But my point is a little bit more meta than simply facts vs analogies. Arguments are not effective in drawing people together. They don’t naturally help people (especially on the internet) understand each others state of mind better. It naturally creates an us vs them mentality, and an isn’t an us vs them mentality the root of all violence? The cavemen who wear pelts of deer who must kill the cavemen who wear pelts of the unclean animal.

And yet we argue. All. The. Time.

I’m not sure what that says about us humans.