On disagreement


in Daily updates, Politics, Rants

Several people have commented today that I would likely not enjoy the Burning Man Festival, because people there would be overly radical. (See my prior post on the possibility of going.) Since the theme of the event this year is the relationship between people and nature, there will be a lot of engagement with issues in which I have personal political stances and pre-existing understandings. The kind of radicalism that people seem to be talking about is the idea that some kind of fundamental philosophical alteration of human understandings and interactions is required for environmental sustainability. The exact opposite view is to chalk up all environmental problems to ‘market failures’ that can be corrected by altering incentive structures. Clearly, each view is inadequate. The first lacks pragmatism, as well as a comprehensive conception of how a thing could possibly be brought about. The second presents the world in an overly simplistic fashion. In many areas relating to environmental choices, dialog is still very much required. In others, there is enough consensus among the reasonable for the focus to shift to implementation.

For the festival to have any importance, beyond that of a hedonistic collection of art and experiences, it needs to involve some real discussion. An open-minded representation of a fairly moderate, mainstream sort of view might provide some useful grounding, even if it might be frustrating for all involved. Having your complacency challenged can be unpleasant, but it is also necessary if views are not to ossify and those with different opinions are not to be completely alienated from one another. (See: recent post on partisanship) The hardest perspectives for me to deal with are wooly notions of spirituality that are entirely out of keeping with the ideals and modes of thought associated with science. I cannot but conclude that astrology is utter nonsense, and that human life in general would be better if everyone could completely and finally reject it as bunk. I expect that many people at the festival will not hold such views. That said, since my days of ferocious arguments with fellow members of LIFE about how crystal healing is nonsense, I have learned the point at which one can only agree to disagree.

Given that I still have no idea what I will be doing next year, I cannot say whether I will be free in North America with sufficient funds for such an expedition, when the time comes. That said, I don’t see any reason not to go, on the basis that the conceptions of the world I generally hold are not the same as those held by many other likely attendees. I have been missing debate since I left UBC, anyhow.

[Update: 20 November 2006] If you want to read a much more forceful – though not necessarily any more accurate – criticism of the Burning Man Festival, have a look at this description that Jessica sent me. Definitely worth a glance, before making a multi-thousand kilometre journey.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous November 20, 2006 at 4:25 am

A good distinction is between being moderate in procedures, and being moderate in final opinions. Moderate procedures are like those of a fair trial – rule for dealing with evidence, the requirement to listen to both sides of an issue. The decision reached may not be ‘moderate’ in the sense that it is open to doubt, but it is moderate in the sense that it was reached in a correct way.

Rejecting someone’s opinion out of hand is no good, but firmly rejecting it on the basis of proper consideration is perfectly legit.

Meghan November 20, 2006 at 4:38 am

Your final sentence strikes me as odd, given how opposed you were to the debate society, and how disinclined you were to debate, in your third and fourth years at UBC.

Alena Prazak November 20, 2006 at 7:08 am

Healing is largely in the mind anyway; many scientific studies of placebos have shown so. If crystals help you to find peace and harmony, so be it. Astrology has a long history and for those who study it, it holds many answers. Science often has more questions than answers, faith provides answers to questions. What people choose to believe is their own decision and stupid ideas seem brilliant to someone. In any field, it is helpful to develop your own point of view based on your experience and knowledge, but it is not useful for dialogue to reject another person’s point of view completely. That is merely trying to make another person feel bad or defensive.

Jessica November 20, 2006 at 10:14 am

Burning Man has a lot more in common with the Queer Bop than it does with a serious discussion of whatever issues it may seem to encompass.

Milan November 20, 2006 at 2:23 pm


I have always enjoyed debate, my problems were mostly with the UBC Debate Society.


There is value to tolerance, but there is also value in rejecting beliefs that are manifestly and demonstrably wrong. Astrology strikes me as a good example.


That may be, but my hope is there would be enough diversity there for at least a space in which discussion could occur to exist. It would probably be best to go hoping that the art and road trip would be good, then be pleasantly surprised if criticisms of the sort you leveled are actually unsound.

Jessica November 20, 2006 at 4:51 pm

It wasn’t a criticism, I’m sort of a fan of hedonistic debauchery. I’m just pointing out that if you go in with this attitude,
“For the festival to have any importance, beyond that of a hedonistic collection of art and experiences, it needs to involve some real discussion.”
you may be sorely disappointed.

For actual criticism, see here: http://blog.hisnameistimmy.com/?p=12

Milan November 20, 2006 at 4:55 pm

A “hedonistic collection of art and experiences” can have plenty of value, even if enormous importance does not attach to it.

Still, you would like to believe that the people attending actually hope to be relevant in some way that extends beyond the playa of the Nevada desert.

Alena Prazak November 20, 2006 at 5:40 pm

Events can be important for many reasons and they don’t all have to be serious. When people gather, communication takes place and understanding can arise. If something does not appeal to us or even strikes us as ridiculous, it does not mean that it is wrong. Conversely, just because something is serious, such as imperialism or consumerism, it does not make it good or right for everyone. We need to be more gentle in our debate

Milan November 20, 2006 at 6:05 pm

Respect is one thing, gentleness quite another. Being respectful in debate increases the chances of it leading to a useful outcome; being gentle decreases those chances, increasing the likelihood that people will leave the debate with little more than they brought in, in the first place.

Tristan Laing November 20, 2006 at 6:58 pm

The distinction between theory and practice that you are operating within is inadaquate. Theory is the highest form of practice because it gives practice its telos whereby it can see beyond a situation through a perticular perspective. Ergo, what you dismiss as gentle musings, having demonstrable falsity, and not mainstream enough to produce useful discussion, are actually the determination of values which phronesis (practical action) needs. If there is no theory in the individual to direct the moment of pratical action towards a final value, then practical action will find this value some way else. An example of this is fascism – where practical action is motivated towards a final cause not determined in the individual but produced in theatrical images of romantic nationalism.

In an age where the world is become picture, there is an ever greater need to be vigilant against the tendency for theory to oppose itself to practice, because of the inner connection between this tendency and (not neccesarily authoritarien) fascism.

. March 10, 2008 at 9:41 am

Should Scientists Date People Who Believe Astrology?

By CmdrTaco on do-you-have-any-other-options

YourAstrologer writes “Wired Science asks: Should scientists date people who believe in astrology? Apparently, the argument is quite complex. Astrology is sort of a flawed mental shortcut for understanding the world, but so is disregarding someone because of their spiritual beliefs. Women are inundated with astrological nonsense from fashion magazines, so it is normative for them to believe it even if they are otherwise highly logical. Smart people can convince themselves of silly things.”

Anon July 7, 2008 at 7:34 pm

Fuck Burning Man, go to TED.

. February 16, 2012 at 11:59 am

Security services deem environmental, animal-rights groups ‘extremist’ threats

Federal security services have identified Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the kind of “multi-issue extremist” groups that pose a threat to Canadians, documents obtained under Access to Information show.

In a series of documents from 2005 to 2009, the RCMP and CSIS assess “threats from terrorism and extremism” and report growing concerns about environmental and animal-rights groups, as well as militants from first nations.

“Multi-issue extremists and aboriginal extremists may pursue common causes, and both groups have demonstrated the intent and the capability to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure in Canada,” says a November, 2008, assessment prepared by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Critics say the Harper government is blurring the lines of counterterrorism to target legitimate opponents of resource developments such as the Northern Gateway project, which will bring bitumen pipelines and massive oil tankers to British Columbia’s rugged coast. And they worry that new legislation designed to give police access to individual Canadians’ personal Internet information will increase surveillance of environmental groups that support acts of civil disobedience.

Greenpeace Canada executive director Bruce Cox said his group is committed to non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

“This is part of the government’s attitude that ‘you’re either with us or against us,’” Mr. Cox said. “We do not pose a threat to public safety and we are not a violent threat.”

A spokeswoman for PETA was unapologetic about the group’s activities, which can include vandalism.

“If it is extreme to oppose bashing in the heads of baby seals, anally electrocuting chinchillas for a coat collar, scalding chickens to death in defeathering tanks, and poisoning cats in cruel lab experiments, then so be it,” said Jane Dollinger, the group’s Washington-based spokeswoman.

. November 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm

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