Archive for January, 2016

The Emperor’s Clothes

Sadly, this still rings true.  Originally posted June 2008.


Given the current political circus rambling around the country, you, dear reader, may be forgiven if you think I am about to engage in a rant regarding the total vacuity of the political platform of one party, or the wrongheadedness of a significant portion of the other side’s platform (at least at this point).  However, such is not the case.  Others are doing an admirable job on this issue and I will let them take main stage in that arena.  Instead, I am going to pontificate based on a thoroughly glorious experience of this past [i.e., in June 2008] weekend about the cultural vacuum currently strangling the vast majority of composers of music in this fair land.

My daughters are classical musicians, most recently trained in a major university here in the Midwest.  A young man of our acquaintance graduated with them with a bachelor’s in composition, and from his shared experiences with my daughters, and my own observation, the composition “teachers” (and I use that term loosely at this point) at this university pride themselves in being “on the cutting edge” of avant-garde music.  Their output is, to put it mildly, as memorable as the screeching of tires just before the impact in a 50 car pileup on a foggy day…and about as pleasant to the ear.  These poor souls think they are oh so sophisticated in their rejection of the “Old School” that believes that, perhaps, music should be beautiful, melodious, and follow certain rules of structure and composition.  Yet, having cast aside these “oppressive shackles,” their creations insult the definition of music, fitting much more readily into the category of noise, and cacophonous noise at that.  Root canals are more pleasant, and ultimately, their output stimulates at best the three R’s:  rejection, revulsion, and regurgitation!

In stark contrast to these emperors running around with no clothes, we have the titans of music from the past fully clothed in true regal splendor, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms to name just the “3 B’s,” whose works are beloved still and have stood the test of time, and whose names are foreign to only the most illiterate (i.e., the public school educated).  The experience to which I referred above was a performance of Beethoven’s glorious Ninth Symphony.  Glorious is, was, and will be the word for such music.  But why?  What sets this music apart?  Great, glorious, memorable music reaches into the human soul and resonates with the human spirit, elevating and reminding him of his divine origin, as the Psalmist so pointedly exclaims:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands….  (Psalm 8:3-6)

Remember that the Psalms were Israel’s hymnal.  Johann Sebastian Bach said, “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.”  Not to be outdone, Martin Luther said of music:

He who despises music, as do all the fanatics, does not please me.  Music is a gift of God, not a gift of men….  After theology I accord to music the highest place and greatest honor.

This connection to the divine is, of course, a primary reason for the degradation of the musical arts.  Having its roots in Marxist/Leninist philosophy, the liberal worldview knows nothing of God and seeks to chase God from the culture and public discourse in all possible venues.  This is not some shadowy conspiracy theory.  In a previous post entitled The Enemy Within, I documented goals the Communist Party drafted and published in the 1950’s and which they then went about to implement all too successfully into the American cultural milieu to bring us down.  Two of them read:

Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression.  An American Communist cell was told to “eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward, meaningless forms.”

Control art critics and directors of art museums.  “Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art.”

Note the adjectives they chose to describe what they wanted to create:  “shapeless, awkward, meaningless, ugly,” and their goal to apply this to “all forms of artistic expression.”  While the above only mentions art as found in museums, the art of the concert hall falls under this purview as well, and has suffered under their attack.

What to do?

Support your local radio station that plays classical music.  Take your children to classical concerts and go yourself even if you don’t have children.  (Hmm, take someone else’s?)  Enrich your life with the glory of good music.  Above all, be aware of this front on the cultural war and take your place on the line wherever you can.

Categories: Commentary, Culture & Media Tags: ,

The Pyramid of Disagreement: A Critical Tool for Analyzing Arguments

An essential skill in evaluating and discussing, mastering the ability to recognize the level of disagreement to which you and/or your opponents are appealing will help discernment to be achieved in almost any debate.  Originally posted in April, 2008.


Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities… With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck.

Thomas Jefferson

When confronted with an idea, proposition, or any content with which one disagrees, several responses are possible. One can ignore it, consider the points of disagreement and become convinced that they are correct and you have been mistaken, or one can continue to disagree and make an attempt at explaining why. Here in the blogosphere, this frequently occurs in the comments section, although the size limitation makes extended and detailed discussions difficult at times.

Nonetheless, to be effective, an effort should be made in determining how to do so. To that end, the preeminent anti-Idiotarian, Dr. Sanity, has brought to light this essay by Paul Graham entitled How to Disagree, which has been supplemented here with this tremendously valuable graphic depicting the Pyramid of Disagreement in which the various possible methods of disagreement are ranked in order of prevalence and effectiveness.


As you move up the pyramid, the effectiveness increases. Mr. Graham labels the bottom method DH0 (Disagreement Hierarchy) on up to DH6. It is important to note that anything below DH4 (counterargument) he labels as “unconvincing,” but could also be labeled “invalid,” or “ineffective.” Thus, if one truly wants to convincingly deal with a topic, one should engage in counterargument (DH4), refutation (DH5), and/or refuting the central point (DH6).

An additional benefit of this pyramid is the ability to recognize what kind of presentation one is reviewing or formulating, i.e., it serves as a tool for analysis of argumentation by providing a framework to judge the level of effectiveness of an argument, another’s or your own.

In general, if the point is to convince and persuade, you want to stick to the upper levels of argumentation. Unfortunately, these usually take more effort and are longer to prepare that the vastly easier lower levels. The progression up and down this pyramid can be correlated with at least two other characteristics: level of rationality and its converse, the level of emotionalism. The higher up the pyramid, the more you have to think and use rational argumentation. The more you sink to the lower levels, the more likely it is you will sink into emoting and reacting without thinking, and thus end up with drivel. The most petulant and peevish exchanges occur at these lower levels, especially at DH0. In addition, this pyramid helps to explain at least one potentially confusing couplet in Proverbs that some take as a contradiction:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

Let’s first note that a fool will most likely answer with the folly of a DH0 or DH1 level response. The more intellectual ones might make it to DH2. So, don’t respond in kind, at the same level, because then you’ll be just like him, and you’ll be operating in the realm of the unconvincing. Yet there are times when it is necessary to formulate some response so that he doesn’t think he’s won (becoming "wise in his own conceit") and so that he doesn’t distort and corrupt someone else’s thinking with his poisonous pabulum. In those cases, you respond at DH4-DH6. With this framework, we see the statements are complementary and not contradictory.

As conservatives, let’s commit ourselves to operating at the DH4 and higher levels in our intercourse here in the blogosphere. If nothing else, it will drive liberals crazy!

ADDENDUM: Two further thoughts on DH0 level discussion, i.e., name-calling responses. First is one that Mr. Graham makes in the essay linked above: it doesn’t matter if one sinks into the gutter of vulgarity to call someone a [explicative deleted] or if one rises to the lexicon of loquacity to label someone a “poltroon of plenitudinous proportions,” it is still name-calling and does not address the issue under discussion and thus is only effective to the author in an emotive, cathartic way (which still may have some value for said author of such a comment, but does nothing to prove any point, or even that the name is an accurate assessment of the one to whom it is ascribed).

The second point is to answer the question, is it ever right to assign a derogatory label to someone, i.e., is name-calling a valid response in some situations? Here, I think there is a fine but finite distinction to be made between a.) responding to an argument and b.) attempting to describe someone or something based on the evidence at hand. Name-calling never answers an argument, period. Thus, it is never a valid response as a counterargument. However, some labels are accurate descriptors if sufficient data has been presented to make the case to use such a label. For example, it is not too difficult to label many liberals today as socialists because one can take their own statements and compare them to the statements found in socialist documents and find identity clearly manifested. Thus, based on the data, labeling someone with a name based on evidence is a valid exercise. It still is not an argument, but it consolidates data, is subject to verification and falsification, and can serve as a basis for argumentation.

Any additional thoughts on this or any other aspect of the pyramid are welcome.

ADDENDUM #2: For an interesting example of God Himself engaged in what I’m talking about in the Addendum above, check out Matthew 23, where Jesus takes on the religious leaders of the day with less than P.C. bluntness. It is critical to note that He supplies multiple examples of their behavior as evidence to justify the names He uses to accurately characterize the fruit of their lives. The grand finale of His indictment is in verse 33:

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

While this appears to be DH0 level “disagreement,” the juxtaposition to the evidence indicates otherwise: it is a descriptor and not an argument. His argument consists of the multiple examples where the religious leaders have consistently shown their contempt for God’s law by their meticulous search for all the loopholes they can find in their hypocritical pursuit of their own righteousness.

As a sidebar, let me also note that despite its vehemence, Jesus is not engaged in irrational emoting or an angry diatribe, although it is probably fair to say that a modicum of righteous anger/indignation was present. Jesus had and displayed emotion, but always under control. As one clear example of this, check out His cleansing of the Temple (e.g., John 2:13-17). Large cattle are not particularly easy to move, and turning over tables constructed to hold the necessary items of trade (scales, weights, coins) was not a job for a limp wimp (carpentry in this day and age would have provided any carpenter of the day with a good physical fitness program). We appear to see Jesus having a temper tantrum, but verse 16 we see the evidence that gives the lie to that conclusion:

And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

In contrast to the larger cattle for sacrifices, doves are fragile birds that were in cages. Rather than throwing these to the ground and hurting the birds, He calmly commands their owners to pick them up and get them out…NOW! In so doing, He demonstrates His self-control even in the midst of an apparent storm. Of course, being the sinless Son of God also makes these kinds of activities substantially “safer” for Jesus than for us (James 1:20).

Elusive Reality

Originally posted in February of 2008, the content outlined here will serve well for the upcoming election year.


Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight at one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.

Sherlock Holmes, The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1892)

Thus the superlative deductive detective of the 19th century pinpoints the challenge faced by those seeking truth in any body of data. One’s point of view, or perhaps better, one’s worldview or frame of reference, dramatically influences how we interpret the data coming at us in every area of life. If you haven’t liked broccoli since childhood, you will have a difficult time trying any dish that contains it without a significant shift in paradigm.

One of my favorite examples of this can be found in Francis Schaeffer’s film series based on his book How Should We Then Live? This opus is an historical examination of the development of western thought from early Greece and Rome all the way through the latter part of the 20th century. At one point he very instructively shows footage of a news story of a riot that’s been staged specifically for his film. First, he shows coverage that depicts "our brave police" staving off the rabid attacks of "fanatics" demonstrating against something or other, with the "rioters" hurling insults and bottles at the police, who hold their ground and remain calm, defending themselves and carrying off only those rioters who have attacked by physically launching themselves at them. The newscaster speaks in glowing terms of the bravery of the police and their willingness to stand in the gap to safeguard the public. Shots focus primarily on either the police or on obviously enraged attackers and their hateful grimaces and faces prior to any action on the part of the police. Makes you feel all soft and warm and protected by the police, thankful that they are there. Then, the film breaks to a second broadcast. In this one, also a riot, the cameras focus only on "police brutality," showing the police apparently overreacting and pounding on those "innocent" demonstrators who were only exercising their first amendment rights of free speech when they were attacked with great violence by the police force armed to the teeth and against which these demonstrators stood no chance to defend themselves. Again, there is selective language by the newscaster in describing the "peaceful protesters" and the "brutal police." In this case, one’s sense of justice and outrage are inflamed at what you see. Finally, a third camera zooms out to show that exactly the same riot is being filmed by two different crews. What has happened is…you’ve been framed!

The earliest formal work on framing traces back 25 years to research by the cognitive psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. In experiments examining risk judgments and consumer choices rather than content itself, the two psychologists discovered that the different ways in which a message is presented or framed can result in very different responses. They concluded in their Nobel Prize winning research that ‘perception is reference-dependent.’

Over the past two decades, research in the fields of political communication and sociology has added to previous work on framing to explain how media portrayals in interaction with cultural forces shape public views. In this research, frames are identified as being used by audiences as ‘interpretative schema’ to make sense of and discuss an issue, by journalists to craft interesting and appealing news reports, and by policymakers to define policy options and reach decisions.

In each of these contexts, frames simplify complex issues by lending greater importance to certain considerations and arguments over others. In the process, framing helps communicate why an issue might be a problem, who or what might be responsible, and what should be done.

(Matthew C. Nisbet & Dietram A. Scheufele, The Future of Public Engagement, October 1, 2007, The Scientist)

Framing is an essential part of communication and happens whether or not you are aware of it. The first paragraphs of this post are, in fact, a "frame" in which an attempt is being made to show the relevance of the following content and to draw you into the presentation represented by this post. It is, therefore, an important tool in creating communication that captures your audience and transmits your message. The question, then, is not whether or not you have been framed, but whether or not the frame corresponds to reality. This is not a trivial question for a culture in which truth has become increasingly malleable and relative to the one experiencing or asserting it, or to the communicator’s ultimate goals with the ends justifying the means. Consequently, what is usually missed is the consciousness that this is occurring, and so critical thought regarding the truthfulness of the frame and the truth of the contents in the frame is overturned by the emotional associations triggered by the frame.

When the emotional responses to the frame block rational thought, you have the essence of propaganda and empty rhetoric no matter the source. Although one can find examples of framing on both the left and right of the political spectrum, the preponderance of flawed framing that literally boggles the mind emanates from the left as their worldview is much more subjective and visceral than that of the right. For purposes of this discussion, we will here note the following definitions from the Pocket Oxford Dictionary (with emphases added to highlight particularly relevant parts): propaganda = information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view; rhetoric = 1) the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing; 2) language with a persuasive or impressive effect, but often lacking sincerity or meaningful content.

As flawed human beings, we are all subject to falling for propaganda and rhetoric, but it behooves us as rational creatures to beware of such manipulation. Those who must needs resort to a distortion of truth generally have an agenda they are seeking to hide, an agenda that, were it fully revealed, would trigger rejection and resistance to it.

As the information available for consumption has been increasing exponentially, our current political and social milieu particularly this election season abounds in examples of all kinds of framing. Thus, Thomas Sowell sounds the alarm in his recent (i.e., recent in February, 2008; sorry but the original does not seem to be available now) NRO article, calling false framing demagoguery:

Yet we seem to be no more aware of the need to be on guard against demagoguery today, in the 21st century, than those people who looked up with open-mouthed adulation at Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and at numerous other demagogues, large and small, around the world throughout the turbulent 20th century.

Many people find it thrilling that the mantra of "change" is ringing out across the land during this election year. But let’s do what the politicians hope that we will never do — stop and think.

In citing a specific example from current campaigning, Sowell adds,

Everybody is for change. They differ on the specifics. Uniting people behind the thoughtless mantra of ‘change’ means asking for a blank check in exchange for rhetoric. That deal has been made many times in many places — and millions of people have lived to regret it.

I, of course, cannot help but repeat his quip specifically directed at one of the most egregious perpetrators of empty framing:

Barack Obama says that he wants to ‘heal America and repair the world.’ One wonders what he will do for an encore and whether he will rest on the seventh day.

Another example: accurate framing is something that’s been dramatically missing in the reporting being done on the Iraq war. As Michael Yon notes in one of his recent dispatches:

The best reporting comes from reporters who have spent the most time on the ground here, because the context is complex and evolving. Long distance reporting is like exploring the moon through a telescope. To get a feel for the ground here, a journalist has to be like Captain Kirk. I have often commented on how very different the reality is over here from what most Americans seem to think it is.

There is no way to explain how different, except to say ‘you would have to be here to understand it.’ When mainstream reporters get the story wrong, it’s usually because they lack the context and depth of experience necessary to correctly interpret what they see and hear. The same is true for bloggers, some of whom are grandiose in implying that they spend a significant amount of time in the field, but an inventory and audit would not support the claims.

False framing most frequently involves the selection of material to show only one side of the story. Dissenting data is dismissed as irrelevant, when in fact, it is only irrelevant for the propagandist whose purpose is only to portray one side, lest the "wrong" conclusion be reached by his audience. A particularly good site for exposing such is Newsbusters.

The bottomline: part of developing critical thinking capacity is to learn to discern the framing taking place in any story, and then to test both the frame and the story content against known realities. In so doing, one heeds the admonition of the wisest man to ever live when he said:

The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.

Proverbs 14:15