Phone Calls, Denials, and Reading Philosophy

  • Phone call etiquette;
  • Denial of the Jan. 6 Insurrection, despite receipts;
  • How denial of evolution resembles current efforts to deny democracy;
  • And some thoughts about reading philosophy.

Still under the weather; perhaps by Monday I’ll have the energy to get back to ‘work’, i.e. currently the database project. This past week I’ve spent an hour or two a day at the computer, checking my usual sites and doing a blog post, and otherwise lying on the sofa, napping, and reading Tintin books. Two or three a day. I have the complete set, most of them read back in the ’90s, but not in order. I have three left.

Washington Post, Heather Kelly, 25 Sep 2023: The new phone call etiquette: Text first and never leave a voice mail, subtitled “When is it okay to leave voice mails, call multiple times in a row or take a call in public?”

I’ll take the article’s word for it; I don’t interact with people by phone often enough to keep up the “new” etiquette. As I’ve probably mentioned before, I avoid talking on the phone when I can. I’m not exactly hard of hearing, but I sometimes have difficulty understanding what people say on the phone (or in person for that matter) and would prefer exchanging in text rather than by voice.

Anyway, this article advises, based on an etiquette expert and “people of all ages” about their phone pet peeves:

1, Don’t leave a voice mail;
2, Text before calling;
3, You don’t need to answer the phone;

And so on. I’ve always been irritated by the presumption of someone calling me out of the blue, interrupting whatever it is I’m doing, as if insisting their business is more important than anything I could possibly be doing. Of course, that was the only possible way to contact people, for decades. But these days: Send me an email. I’ll get to it. Or not.


It’s always been true that people retell history — including the stories of their own lives — to suit their present concerns. So it’s no surprise, this:

Right Wing Watch, 5 Jan 2024: Trump Supporters Deny ‘Vast’ Evidence About Jan. 6 Insurrection; Right Wing Watch Has Receipts

As we approach the third anniversary of the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump supporters intent on disrupting congressional affirmation of his 2020 election defeat, Trump and his MAGA Republican allies continue to spread damaging lies about the election and the insurrection itself—and argue against holding him accountable for his antidemocratic actions.

Trump’s lies about a “rigged” election stoked the insurrectionists’ rage and continue to poison our politics. New polling suggests that millions of Americans—including 34 percent of Republicans—wrongly believe the FBI organized and encouraged the insurrection, a theory promoted by far-right media and political figures for the past three years. As the Washington Post has noted, Trump true believers who embrace the theory are not moved by “the vast legal and evidentiary record” about Jan. 6 – much like those who believe Trump’s false claims about the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory.

As the saying goes, repeat a lie often enough, and more and more people will believe it.

The article goes on with those “receipts” — links to the many articles about the Jan. 6th event and its aftermath. Presumably the MAGA fans would simply deny their veracity; their enemies apparently have godlike powers to conduct vast conspiracies to create evidence of things they believe did not happen.


On a similar note.

OnlySky, M L Clark, 3 Jan 2024: How the fight for evolution prepared us to fight for democracy

This is a fascinating essay that compares the current corrosion of ideas about democracy to the deliberate corrosion of scientific terms (like “theory”) by people determined over the decades to take-down evolution. (The real scientists ignore them; of course the target audience of those determined people are the relatively uneducated and easily confused.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of junk arguments from creationism that highlight how we might take back political literacy, too.

The article goes on with issues the creationists raise about speciation and so-called ‘macro’ evolution. I’ll quote just a bit to provide the flavor.

The first thing a creationist will sometimes try to do is pretend that a species is a fixed, real thing, instead of a name given by humans to differentiate between characteristics clusters. They will do this so that they can act as though there’s a difference between evolutionary processes on a small scale and on a big scale, when the latter is simply the cumulative impact of the former. They might argue that, fine, fine, variation happens, but only small-scale. Micro, not macro. It’s not like abiogenesis is happening every day, to spring a whole new species into being.

Except… no one is talking about abiogenesis, the emergence of life from non-life, when they’re talking about speciation. That’s a conversation about the beginning of this planet’s long lineages. We might be more than willing to talk about that with creationists, too, but when explaining evolution by natural selection, it’s important not to let anyone derail us from the topic at hand.

Creationists are pure motivated thinkers, twisting evidence and terminology to support their pre-determined conclusion. I try not to pay much attention to them.

A flavor of the discussion of democracy:

When we talk about “democracy” being in peril, we’re loosely alluding to a few endangered species of democracy in our current world. And we need to get better at talking in those narrower terms, so that our concerns aren’t weaponized, then dismissed, as a “macro” threat that might not follow as imminently from all the “micro” variations in democratic practice seen in the world today.

Luckily, we have a robust vocabulary from species recovery efforts to lean upon.

The big theme here, of course, is that reality is complex, and not made up of simple black and white dichotomies. And yet many people wish it was, and strive to impose such dichotomies on the real world.


Finally for today, some thinking out loud, or thinking while typing. Like most people (and despite the item on the 1st about this) I make New Year’s Resolutions, which are almost always about focusing my attention to complete, or make substantive progress on, my various-long term projects. (As opposed to doing some specific thing I’ve never done before, like taking up sky-diving.) One of these is always reading. I like to read and have a substantial library of books I haven’t read, books full of interesting ideas I want to learn about. But I’m realistic enough to know that I shall never read them all. So the older I get, the more I try to prioritize, and plan reading to support some goal.

It helps that over the past decade, especially since we moved to Oakland 9 years ago now, I’ve had the leisure (in my ‘retirement’) to catch up on many of those books, and keep up with newer books coming out, to gradually develop a worldview and thesis that includes my ideas about science fiction. This has resulted, in 2023, with the essay I wrote for Gary Westfahl about how science fiction, in particular, reflects the biases in human nature that exist because of evolution. Which I think might be a chapter in the book I’ve alluded to writing for… this past decade.

So this week, among other books, I’ve resolved to read this year a history of philosophy. That is, a single book covering the entire history of philosophy. I’ve gathered quite a lot about the history of philosophy over the years, but only in bits and pieces, mostly about specific philosophers and their ideas, as they come to my attention. (I never took a course in philosophy in college.) But this year: a full read-through. I have such histories in my library by three writers: Bertrand Russell, Anthony Gottlieb, and A.C. Grayling. For the moment, I’ve chosen the middle writer, though his history is in two books.

But: Here’s why I’m bringing this subject up. The opening pages of Gottlieb’s first book begin, of course, with the early Greeks, those who imagined the world as variations of earth, air, fire, and water. I understand that there would be another two millennia before it occurred to anyone to *test* such propositions against experiments in the real world, in the way we understand science today.

Having read so many books (in the past decade or so) about the biases built into the human mind by evolution, all the of the inclinations in the human mind to detect patterns even where none actually exist….

Now I wonder, what was the bridge between base human nature, as identified by modern psychology, and the earliest philosophy? Wasn’t early philosophy — earth, air, fire, water — just an extension of the primitive, intuitive thinking, built into human nature by evolution?

Did any of the early philosophers project their thinking beyond the intuitive, until the Enlightenment? When the ideas of evidence and conclusions took hold?

(Going on a bit further, 7jan24)

I suspect the answer is that, for further back in time than we have written records, there have always been the occasional smart people who have deeper insights into how the world works than most people. Who understand that many superstitions (e.g. famous people die in threes) are merely coincidences, or selective attention.

We speak of philosophy as if it is some body of recorded wisdom, as it has become, but this surely wasn’t so until recent centuries. Books and libraries were rare until Gutenberg; most people have never concerned themselves with philosophical matters even today. Such ideas have always existed only in pockets of individuals or small groups. It’s analogous to that William Gibson saying: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Philosophy of various sorts has always been around, just not in very many people.

But I’m thinking there should be more to it than that. Were there general principles of thought, perhaps at the level of government, that existed before specific philosophers came along with radical ideas? Were such general principles derived from those intuitions of base human nature, or perhaps derived by practice and experience — I would expect the latter, at least as human settlements grew beyond the small, itinerant tribes of the ancestral  environment. No doubt there are subfields of anthropology that explore such ideas, and I just don’t know enough to know where to look.

Another thought later: I suppose the difference between the writing of some wise man (or woman) and something called “philosophy” is the implied scope. Writings of the wise record personal experience and conclusions. Something called philosophy is aimed at explaining or prescribing something about the world in general. What the world is made of and how it works; how to live a proper life.

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