Verbal Gymnastics–The Ribbon Dance

Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you meet a stranger in the Alps? I am trying to return to my blog roots and write about recipes and books, but no one reads it. So here I am, back on the FDR topic, absolutely astonished on the free will/determinism debate. I don’t particularly have a horse in this race, here or elsewhere (the topic came up somewhere at the Skeptic’s Guide discussion board), because I don’t care. I care what people do, and often why, but not at the graviton level.

So Molyneux is a free-willer. Great. Some people aren’t. Great. No! Not great! Apparently he’s had a podcast in which he goes off on determinism and determinists, and suggests that they submit themselves to psychological evaluations. That makes me laugh out loud in that kind of single barking laugh that you immediately cover your mouth with your hand after, and then look around to see first if anyone heard you and second if they are as amazed by what you just saw or read, too–even when you are home alone. You know that kind of laugh? Well, that just happened to me.

This is the thread that caught my attention:

Determinist Willing to Submit to Psychological Evaluation

It’s a very good read. The poster is pretty astonished, too, at what he’s heard in said podcast…
FDR1233: Free Will, Determinism, and Self-Knowledge (link will open audio file; you can also download it at iTunes)
(Said podcast is just first of a three-parter)

He makes some detailed arguments and then reports back with even more arguments after he’s heard more on the topic. He volunteers to be submitted to a psychological evaluation, and makes a request to discuss this with Molyneux at length, in the thread or via email. He doesn’t want to discuss it in a conversation; he wants to be able to go through it point by point. I agree that conducting debates like this do go better in writing when it’s just a couple of people doing it. But do you know what he gets? He doesn’t get a response in writing.

He gets a podcast that addresses points made by another person in another thread. It’s on the same subject, but it’s not what the original poster asks for. Perhaps they are having a wonderful conversation via email, but to me it looks like Molyneux doesn’t want to debate point by point in writing (perhaps for the reasons of psychological avoidance that the original poster suggests in his posts). He wants to make a fast-talking, nit-picky, convoluted argument (I am listening to it right now) with frequent interruptions to gush at his baby) where no one can interrupt him or ask him to make clarifications, or contest major points that should not count as “evidence.” The next person to speak up in the thread also requests to conduct the discussion in writing, because he says the idea of talking about it makes him nervous. I don’t know that “nervous” is the word I would choose, but I would hesitate to engage in a conversation that I would effectively be locked out of. There’s no real conversation with Molyneux. Points are brought up and he talks at you until you agree or else he leaves the topic.

So Molyneux has had a few days to answer the original poster in writing. He chooses instead to make a bogus response with an unintelligible podcast (that is, you can hear the words and understand them as English, but they don’t string together coherently). The poster comes back on and makes his longer, more irritated point within minutes of Molyneux posting his bogus, auditory, not in writing response. But you know what will happen next? If the original poster or someone else brings up the topic, all Molyneux has to do to deflect it now is refer to this podcast he’s made and tell people to listen to it before bringing up the topic again. You can’t refer to points he’s made specifically because they go by so fast. It would take a very long time to type it all out, and then you’ll get into more verbal gymnastics about how what he meant to say was this and then a conversation that argues semantics for a while. If you try to talk to a hard core member about it, they’ll refer you to Molyneux’s podcasts (or book, or whatever) and refuse to debate with you until you’ve read and listened to everything they tell you to do. Until you’ve done what they want you to do, debate stops.

DIVERGENCE: There is a very sad example of this in another thread, “Regular Skype Chats.” I don’t know what went down in the text chat room, but one person was having private messages with another person, and was angry and sad. The second person told the first person to go process the rage, but because the first person didn’t take a time out from the board and maintained a cheerful public facade, the second person explains that the first person wasn’t behaving correctly and so the second person lost interest in communicating with the first person until this penance/self-reflection/”processing” had occurred. It’s a shame. The first person wanted someone to talk to, but the second person prohibits it until some vague behavior is enacted and then deemed worthy enough by the group. All this takes place in the first two posts of the thread. The rest of the thread is very interesting, too–they are debating whether or not there has been tension in the chat. I bet there’s been tension. Molyneux has a new baby now. He’s built a real-time family and can’t run his online family as well any more. This is the kind of group that needs a leader. I’m sure it’s very scary. This is what happens to stepkids when new babies are born, and it isn’t fun.

Molyneux isn’t going to respond in writing because he can’t control a conversation. Period. But he’ll bedazzle you with some fancy footwork and artistic ribbon displays. 6.0 across the board!

I can’t even get my head around the part where the call for a psychological evaluation comes in. I shouldn’t be shocked by that, though–if you disagree with Molyneux, evil, ignorant, or crazy are the only possible reasons why.

Lovely work. Of course, some fascist judge knocked 0.05 off her score for dropping the ribbon halfway through. Bastarde! Didn’t he that she is an artiste?

This is a nice response from an FDR regular. Sure, the original poster was sarcastic, but hardly “worked up.” Believe you me–I’ve seen worked up online. That isn’t it. (I’ll refrain from pointing out externally to these parentheses how “worked up” Molyneux himself gets to get, because that is allowed.) I love it, too, the emphasis on tone. It doesn’t matter what you say–it matters how you say it. We’re tapping into some good, old-fashioned Formalism! You want to see a great literary example of this attitude taken to an extreme, read Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. But goddam are the FDRers polite!

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