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jdavidb (1361)

jdavidb
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http://voiceofjohn.blogspot.com/

J. David Blackstone has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Engineering and nine years of experience at a wireless telecommunications company, where he learned Perl and never looked back. J. David has an advantage in that he works really hard, he has a passion for writing good software, and he knows many of the world's best Perl programmers.

Journal of jdavidb (1361)

Friday December 06, 2002
01:10 PM

Black and white

[ #9315 ]

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that one of the problems in discussions of substance is that so many people, even educated, intelligent, erudite folks, see things only in terms of black or white. Either you are for something or against it. I am very surprised to be noticing this, because when I was younger I thought it was one of my own problems, and that when I overcame it I would be immersed in an intellectual world of enlightened thinkers who did not suffer from it. Now I've grown up and I'm left wondering why 90% of the world hasn't.

Let me offer a few examples.

The city of Dallas has been considering a total smoking ban in all Dallas restaurants and bars. (The bar part is especially silly. Remember as I say that that I'm anti-tobacco and a non-drinker.) Unfortunately, most people view the discussion as centering around two alternatives: either you believe smoking is bad and you support the ban, or you believe smoking is good and you oppose the ban. Under this way of thinking, if someone opposes the ban, it's because they don't realize smoking is bad and you must convince them. (Usually by reciting results of studies over and over again, or simply trying to shout louder.)

Infantile! It's impossible to have a reasoned discussion with these people! Everyone knows smoking is bad ("harmful" is a better word, with less value judgments). I am very anti-smoking and have been all my life. It's not simply a matter of comfort with me: I am a severe asthmatic and also allergic to tobacco. I am thrilled to see declines in smoking rates, worried to see that they are on the rise among young people (I guess the old people are just dying), and I despise tobacco companies and hope they fail some day through lack of demand for their product. (Note the libertarian desire to see great economic harm come to them without legal interference.) I have been increasingly pleased all my life to watch market forces change smoking sections from tiny rarities buried in the back of smoke filled rooms to the norm everywhere. If the smoking ban passed, I'd probably in some sense be happy in that I could personally enjoy not having to endure smoke in restaurants. Nevertheless, I only see one issue here: property rights. As long as smoking is legal, the only person to decide whether or not you should be allowed to smoke on a piece of property is the owner of the property. But woe to those who try to explain this to the non-smokers of Dallas! It's not a simple matter of disagreement. They refuse to listen to another point of view, because your point of view is not worthy of consideration since it supposedly starts with the false premise that "smoking is not bad."

Another example: a toymaker making parody dolls of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein has gotten angry letters from American Muslims criticising them for "vilifying an entire religion." Whoa! If bin Laden and Hussein were claiming to practice my religion, I'd be trying to distance myself and my faith from them as much as possible. Most Muslims I know do. I personally seem to spend time every week repudiating the crusades, Calvinism, original sin, government enforced "Christianity," the Catholic Church, and the Protestant Churches as not being part of the religion of the Bible. Can't we all agree that civilized people of any religion don't do what was done on September 11, even if some of us are Muslims and some of us aren't, and some of us support the war and some of us don't, and some of us are pacifists and some of us aren't, and some of us understand the economic and political conditions that make terrorists so desperate and some of us don't?

But with these folks, it's black and white. One angry letter asks, "How can you expect to hate and not be hated in return?" For crying out loud! Osama bin Laden killed thousands of people. That's hard to forgive in a year. These people see "pro-Muslim" and "anti-Muslim" viewpoints, and apparently are so black and white on the subject that even making fun of Osama bin Laden shows that you must be clamoring for new crusades against the entire Muslim world. The whole middle east problem since Sept. 11 has polarized in some very strange ways. It's impossible to believe in war against al Qaeda without automatically being a supporter of war in Iraq. It's impossible to believe this situation must be resolved by force without being a war-monger and imperialist. It's impossible to believe Israel has some changing to do without being anti-semitic. It's impossible to believe bin Laden and/or Hussein are genocidal maniacs like Hitler that must be stopped at all cost without believing in turning the entire Muslim world into a radioactive glass parking lot. Grow up, people! 13 year olds take positions like this. Real adults have more complicated thinking that doesn't always neatly fall into one of two categories.

[If you've read all that and think you know which "side" I'm on in the middle east/Al Qaeda/Iraq issue, you have completely missed my point.]

A final bonus example. I'm a firm believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But to most people's minds, a whole host of other issues are automatically decided when you make that commitment. It's unfathomable to atheists and Christians alike that I don't believe in school prayer, believe in total freedom of religion, believe in total freedom of speech, and think people have the right to work on Sunday (or Saturday, or Friday) if they want to. Oh, and that I don't believe in leading the entire nation into a river like Charlemagne or Vladimir and forcibly baptizing them. There's not just two viewpoints on these issues! It doesn't boil down into black and white! "For" Christianity doesn't mean "for" coercion, any more than "anti" tobacco means "for" smoking bans.

I just keep seeing issue after issue where I'm shut out from talking to people because I have to explain millions of shades of red, green, and blue to binary, color-blind people.

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  • There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't. :-)

    Seriously, though, I think you've chosen to discuss a small number of issues that are exceedingly easy to polarize. Smokers (and tobacco companies) are strongly in favor of a right to smoke, while the anti-smoking lobby is seeking to slowly eliminate smoking (or at least eliminate the idea that there is a right to smoke in public).

    The middle east is one big soup of polarity. Everyon

    • I really like that first sentence!

      Yes, these issues might be more polarized than others. It's just that I keep seeing the same thing, over and over again. Pick some issues you and I are in complete agreement over (DMCA, perhaps? Are there any such issues? ;) ), and you'll see what I mean. (Either you're an American believing in free enterprise and strong intellectual property rights, or you're an evil MP3 sharing pirate who just wants something for nothing.)

      No, I don't expect the President to change

      --
      J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
  • 1. One argument for smokefree restaurants is that restaurants are workplaces, and employees should not be exposed to hazardous materials in the air at work. If a workplace has asbestos in the air, is it okay for the employer not to do anything about it, simply because it's private property? After all, in the ideal libertarian world the workers can always choose to work somewhere else.

    2. Aren't you the one with the sig equating abortion to killing babies? That seems pretty black-or-white and not condu

    • 1. Yep; I agree with that ideal libertarian world. If they don't like smoking they can choose to work somewhere else. But of course in practice it's not all that black and white... ;)

      2. Mostly I'd just like to get legitimacy for the viewpoint that abortion is or might be killing babies. Right now we're more concerned with protecting a mother's right to believe the baby in her womb is not a baby than we are with any rights the baby might have on the off chance that it's a person. We can't "force belief

      --
      J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
      • Mostly I'd just like to get legitimacy for the viewpoint that abortion is or might be killing babies. Right now we're more concerned with protecting a mother's right to believe the baby in her womb is not a baby than we are with any rights the baby might have on the off chance that it's a person.

        That's fine, but understand that abortion is intertwined in a rat's nest of issues: religion, medicine, crime (incest / rape), family planning, eugenics, the constitution/law, and politics.

        Understand that the

        • Understand that there will never be a "simple resolution" to the abortion issue.

          I disagree. I see treating a fetus as a person with full rights as a simple solution. Sure, there are some complications, most especially the point at which it becomes a fetus with full rights. But the solution is simple, even if there are complications surrounding it and its implementation.

          The Christian POV is that in the case of a pregnancy where both the mother and child are in danger, it is your obligation to try and
      • 1. Yep; I agree with that ideal libertarian world. If they don't like smoking they can choose to work somewhere else. But of course in practice it's not all that black and white... ;)

        Indeed, it is not that black and white -- after all, there are a limited number of places to find employment, and the owners of those establishments can agree to *all* allow smoking. The cost of starting up a bar is substantial, and beyond the reach of most people who work at one.

        The "ideal libertarian world" will never app
  • 13 year olds take positions like this. Real adults have more complicated thinking that doesn't always neatly fall into one of two categories.

    Apologies for sounding indelicate...But this sounds like it might be an evaluation of Texans, not of people in general.

    In the communities where I've lived, there have been a huge number of public issues of discussion; generally, the news media collapse issues down to a few viewpoints, but at least when I talk to people, they often see things in many shades of grey.

    --

    -DA [coder.com]

    • Apologies for sounding indelicate...But this sounds like it might be an evaluation of Texans, not of people in general.

      No offense taken; you gave me a good laugh. Actually, though I gave the Dallas example, I'm also thinking particularly of people in Internet discussion sites like, say, slashdot. As I said in another comment, I like use Perl; because we are often such an exception to it.

      You make a good point about simplification. Sometimes we need such simplification. I can't learn everything abou

      --
      J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
      • Yeah, slashdot... k5 (kuro5hin.org) used to be quite a nice place too. Then, it gained visibility. I read it sometimes but I haven't logged in since its defacement years ago.

        While I'm at it. This information about Quakers reminds me one of the sunnit branches of Islam (there are four main sunnit branches, not counting chiits, mutazilits, ismaelits, wahabbits, etc.) -- I don't remember which one -- : consensus is very important in their theology and legislation also. I don't know if it's actually comparable

  • All your talk about how enlightened you are and 90% of the rest are dolts because they can't see the many sides to things and then you come up with this gem (emphasis added)...

    Nevertheless, I only see one issue here[1]: property rights. As long as smoking is legal[2], the only person to decide whether or not you should be allowed to smoke on a piece of property is the owner of the property. But woe to those who try to explain this to the non-smokers of Dallas!

    [1] With such a wonderfully enlightened min

    • Guilty as charged; I stand corrected, and I thank you.

      My big gripe is that I understand why other people are guided by those other issues, but they refuse to listen when I try to say there's more involved.

      --
      J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
  • Passing thoughts:

    * I think it was Alan Watts who once said like (I can't quote from memory) "one way to express a central approach of Buddhism is the idea that all concepts are wrong." That's a good starting point.

    * Even when I was a young hyoomon in school, I wan annoyed by the existence of "debate club", which promulgated the already viral idea that an issue is best considered as two (not three! or seven!) exactly diametrically opposed, hostile positions. We need more of that kind of thinking (or th

    • I think debate between two diametrically opposed, hostile positions is a wonderful tool, and we do need more of it, if done in the right frame of mind. The point should not be to win, or to make the other lose, but to explore the issue. I consider a debate where one side beats the other and nothing new is learned to be an utter failure. If the debate ends with no winner and much is learned by all, it is an unqualified success.

      That's not to say other methods of exploring issues aren't perfectly valid, bu
      • If the debate ends with no winner and much is learned by all, it is an unqualified success.

        Congratulations on the success of use Perl;, pudge! :)

        Actually, that is what I like about this site, as I've said elsewhere. I often have my brain stretched here. It greatly helps that most of this group does not suffer from the black-and-white problem I described, at least not often. (I think we all get it from time to time.)

        --
        J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers