In the past I’ve tried on a number of occasions to explore hypothesis that are radically different from our (and mine) own assumptions. One of the very popular books in the collegiate circles in which I ran in my early college years (I matriculated in 1980) was Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. One of the highlights of this book are short dialogs mostly between Achilles and the Tortoise borrowed from the famous race/paradox exploring in somewhat eclectic and fascinating conversations connections about Bach, Godel, and Escher. In one of these dialogs sports replays came up as a discussion topic. There we were introduced a better type of replay … made available subjunctive TV, that is “how would that play have gone .. if instead of X, Y was the case.” If memory serves, Achilles was tried the TV with standard suggestions, like “if they had run the ball instead, or tried different personnel and so on. The Tortoise tossed some more imaginative suggestions like “How would that play have looked if it was played by intelligent life forms on/from Jupiter or if the number 13 was not prime.” Exploring radical hypothesis and following their logical consequences is, for me, a vital part of the intellectual life. Subjunctive exploration is a valuable thing, e.g., the gedankenexperiment.

I’ve tried these methods any number of times in this space, but almost universally the reaction has been the same. This struck me again today with the strong negative reaction to the suggestion that at the grassroots level the Tea Party was primarily made up of women. I took this as a starting point to wondered about the correlation between that notion and another idea offered before, that the left’s primary concern over the tea party is that this is a racist movement. My question was to wonder if a T/P made mostly of women weakened the racism charge for it seemed to me that the two might be at odds. For racist political and other public social grouping seem to me to be primarily male dominated. Consider that the KKK and the US Nazi parties and other strongly obviously racist movements by my impression are almost entirely devoid of women. It seems to me likely that any image of a “organized group of racists” would be perceived as primarily if not completely made up of men. My initial impression of a group of mostly women would not be that their motivation was race-based. 

That was just this week. In the past, I’ve tried to offer for discussion whether Honor/Shame cultures were happier than our individualistic ones, whether the premises on which our Constitution are based might be flawed in various ways (for example Church/State separation and the election process). The reaction to this almost universally is not what I’d expect. What I normally expect, and I guess hope for, is that the premise might, for the purposes of the discussion, be granted and consequences of that assumption explored. But, like the T/P gender makeup what almost always occurs, with some heat and force typically, is to attack the reasonableness of the premise in the first place. Now, this might be because in presenting the assumption/premise I give a short discussion which is to suggest in ways in which it might be reasonable and for the purposes of the discussion reasonable should be enough. For example, prior to embarking on ruminations of how one might attempt to reconcile the dynamic growth and wealth of individualistic cultures with the rootedness and connected human nature of H/S cultures I offered that there is evidence that people in H/S cultures are happier based on lower mental illness (depression) and suicide rates in those cultures. What I got was not an exploration/discussion in comments that followed how H/S and growth might be combined but instead pushback on the very idea that H/S cultures might be happier.

Perhaps what I should do is to split posts of that nature into two, so discussions of the premise as such can be done and separated from discussions of consequences of the premise taken. However, my suspicion is that the latter track would engender less interest. 


Filed under: Mark O.

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