Internet Trolling and Needlenose Ned

August 20, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 2:27 pm   Category: Bloggernacle

How many of us have had repeated bloggernacle interactions with some person that felt a little too much like this:

While I think we can all easily identify with and understand Phil’s perspective and his reaction to Ned, it probably takes a little more mental effort for any of us to identify with Ned.  This partially has to do with the fact that Groundhog Day is told from Phil’s perspective, but I think it also has to do with the fact that Ned is just plain annoying.  It is for similar reasons, I suggest, that we so easily see ourselves being trolled by others in the bloggernacle but rarely if ever see ourselves as doing the trolling.  We each see bloggernacle interactions from our own perspective and, not without reason, see their one-note repetitions as annoying.  Indeed, not unlike Phil’s second encounter with Ned, we tend to assume that in such interactions we are the victims of a shell-game or some other misdirective scheme on the other’s part.  Like Phil, we have a difficult time believing that Ned is truly being sincere in his on-note repetitions.

It is not at all irrelevant, however,  that in the last iteration of Groundhog Day – the day that actually counts and is not erased from existence – Phil actually buys a boat load of insurance from Ned, having moved past the sarcastic dismissiveness that characterized their interactions up to that point.  How is it, I wonder, that we in the bloggernacle might also move past the sarcastic dismissiveness that often characterizes our online interactions?  By no means am I the expert on this point, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have any input on the subject.

I think a major source of the Groundhog Day-ness of our online interactions has to do – unsurprisingly – with the systematic miscommunications which characterize moral disagreements.  The different ways in which liberals, conservatives and other such moral paradigms prioritize and interpret different moral values, lead these groups to consistently speak past one another in ways that are quite predictable.  These systematic miscommunications are exactly what I have – with very little success – been attempting to overcome in many of my recent posts.  Jonathan Haidt does a much better job than I do in his book The Righteous Mind.

These systematic miscommunications create a situation in which OP sees the commenter as either missing the point or misrepresenting his post.  These perceptions lead him to reassert his position both for the sake of clarification as well as distancing himself from the perceived strawman.  By the same logic, the commenter also sees OP as either being wrong in some subtle sense or as twisting words and facts to fit their own ideology.  This systematic pattern in OP’s communication compels the commenter to repackage and repeat what is essentially the same objection over and over, but to little avail.

Each side sees the other as skewing data and/or reason for the sake of some prejudiced conclusion.  In this sense, both sides are in the exact same boat.  The problem is, however, that neither side is or ought to be willing to leave it at that.  Both sides agree that there is a difference between them and that they cannot both be equally right, even if they might be equally wrong.  Indeed, it is this shared conviction that largely propels both sides around the same unchanging pivot-points of disagreement.

Not unlike the case of Phil Conner, I want to suggest that getting out of such Groundhog Day interactions are not only quite difficult, but also a significant step forward in terms of our own spiritual progression.  Sarcastic dismissiveness and heavy-handed censorship, I suggest, may be much easier and more than a little amusing, but they are also spiritually bankrupt.  I am not at all saying that all censorship in the bloggernacle is bad – to say nothing of generalizing this claim beyond our shared internet forum.  What I am saying is that choosing to mock or censor a person rather than putting in the time and effort to understand, internalize and respect their views is unchristian by any standard.

The reason why understanding, internalizing and respecting positions from the other side of the political or moral spectrum is so difficult is because they are, in a very real sense, speaking different and internally coherent language.  Indeed, it is the strong internal coherence within the different moral paradigms that is responsible for the systematic and repetitious nature of the miscommunications between them.  As in the case with any language that we do not ourselves speak, we simply do not see the coherence which does exist within other moral paradigms.

Following Thomas Kuhn, I suggest that it is a combination of the strong internal coherence within each moral paradigm and the strong incommensurability between the different moral paradigms that is responsible for the Groundhog Day-ness of our interactions.  I also believe, however, that it is no more impossible to compare and translate positions across different paradigms  than it is to do so across different languages… It’s just that doing so requires a great deal of time and effort in order to acquire the mental furniture that is necessary.  Furthermore, the recursive nature of an online debate that would constitute such a learning process would be and is nigh indistinguishable from the average threadjack.  But this is what makes dismissive sarcasm so tempting: Sometimes the benefits that come from the costly process of understanding, internalizing and respecting another person’s position just aren’t worth it.  Even so, this lack of payoff does not justify dismissive sarcasm and other such  behaviors that characterized the selfish and egotistical Phil Conners of the bloggernacle.

Most people in the bloggernacle who have a kind of Groundhog Day-ness to them simply feel that there is an important point that others are not understanding, internalizing or respecting.  They do not necessarily expect you to agree with them.  There is, however, an obvious and significant difference between those whose disagreements are charitable (in the academic and christian senses of the word) and those whose disagreements are not.  NDBF Gary (sorry to pick on you yet again, Gary!) seems to be the poster-boy for Groundhog Day conversations in the ‘nacle.  I certainly took him as such until I had finally put in the time and effort necessary to understand, internalize and respect his position.  At that point the Groundhog Day-ness of our interactions evaporated into thin air.  This in spite of the fact that Gary and I most definitely do not see eye to eye when it comes to the merits and our interpretations of evolution.  I am quite sure that this is not because we agree nor is it because we agree to ignore each other disagree.  Rather, I think it is because my posts and comments no longer betray a lack of understanding, internalization and respect for the point that Gary feels is so important.

Following this train of thought to its logical conclusion, I can only express the hope that one day I will be able to understand, internalize and respect the positions of those in the ‘nacle with whom I seem to be trapped in a kind of Groundhog Day…  You guys and gals know who you are.  I also hope that they will one day be able to do the same for me and my positions.  The sad part is that none of us can make any definitive promises that the benefits of such an understanding and respect will justify the costs of learning each other’s languages.   But then, I can’t imagine that the multitude of insurance policies that Phil bought from Ned were worth it either.



  1. I have had more than one person online tell me they couldn’t figure out where I stand. At first, that really hurt… That I wasn’t clearly on the side of the Church and/or God. But I think I make few friends here because I am so often trying to bridge the language barrier.

    I see so much value in each political side moving a little towards the other, having a little more compassion. But I warn you now, most people are satisfied with their own comfortable paradigm. They do not want to change or understand.

    Comment by SilverRain — August 21, 2014 @ 3:42 am

  2. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

    Mahatma Gandhi

    Of course this assumes you’re presenting something new of substance, if you are repetition will be required to both awaken someone and penetrate their defenses to actually allow the concept to be considered.

    Comment by Howard — August 21, 2014 @ 4:45 am

  3. I appreciate your patience in your attempts to bridge boundaries.

    I wish I could do the same, but it’s not so much the cliched interactions and repetitive comments – it’s the nastiness.

    Too many people on the ‘Nacle have casually tossed terms like “bigot” or “racist” or “homophobe” or “mindless” at me (and others). They often plead that conservatives call them apostate or unrighteous, but I know that I have never called them that; that doesn’t stop them from declaring me (and others like me) to be that type of scum.

    I’m not sure how to overcome that, and I’ve basically given up on trying. Once upon a time I had hopes of the ‘Nacle overcoming their tribal boundaries, but those boundaries merely seem to harden and get worse as time goes on.

    Comment by Ivan W. — August 21, 2014 @ 7:29 am

  4. Ivan,

    Do you need a hug? You poor sensitive soul.

    Chris H.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — August 21, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

  5. Jeff,

    I love how you write posts alluding to specific people…but you never mention them. It is a type of passive aggression that I have never seen, but it is awesome. You get to deny any offense. Well. Done.

    I am pretty sure I am one who never understands your intent. It is likely do to my lack of charity. I still think you are playing some sort of game (which you will deny).

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — August 21, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

  6. Though referring to Gary was a very concrete example coming from you. I applaud your willingness to use an example.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — August 21, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

  7. No, Chris H. I don’t need a hug. What’s with the hostility? Seriously, I usually just ignore you in the ‘Nacle, yet you often go out of your way to insult me.

    Comment by Ivan W. — August 21, 2014 @ 3:36 pm

  8. Hahaha, It’s funny that you should mention that, Chris. My first draft basically included a list a various interactions I had been a part of throughout my blogging years in which I had played the part of both Phil and Ned. I eventually took it out since it was both long and largely pointless. Sadly, you were not mentioned in it.

    To be honest, I actually kind of like your sarcasm, for the most part. It doesn’t pretend to be any kind of reasoned response and it’s usually pretty funny.

    Ivan, I agree. I considered dealing with the issue of whether both people have to misunderstand each other for their interaction to take on a kind of Groundhog Day-ness or if unilateral miscommunication was sufficient. Eventually, I decided that my post was more an argument against dismissive sarcasm than it was an argument for learning all other people’s moral paradigms.

    Howard, I agree. I think that’s pretty much what I was arguing in the post, in that I was proposing one mechanism responsible for our impenetrability. If something is “too new” or too foreign in the sense of differing at too many conceptual points and definitions, it’s simply too difficult for us to get the mental traction necessary to really address the other person.

    SilverRain, Those are the exact reasons why you’ve always been my blog-crush <3. I love that your loyalty to any political camp or ideology (on the left or right) is not only charitable, heartfelt and nuanced, but also second to your loyalty to the church.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 21, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

  9. I have always found it a curious thing that the empirical study of why people hold the beliefs that they do never gets the attention of the arguments about the beliefs themselves.

    Most people aren’t that interested in why people disagree with them. I was in an elevator the other day and the smokers got on. Another person said they had quit and felt great. One of them said, no one is as sanctimonious as as ex smoker. As I got off the elevator, I told him “if you find a person who isn’t sanctimonious you better give them CPR.

    The one form of righteousness that will never be in short supply is self-righteousness.

    I very much appreciate the time Jeff G. has put into understanding my language and perspective. I have put some effort in trying to understand him also.

    In terms of whether he is playing a game, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s well-played. I do find it interesting that much of what he writes can be summarized as replying to those the criticize the church for authoritarianism “it’s a feature, not a bug”. I think I get that, I just don’t think it helps who he says he wants to help.

    Comment by Martin James — August 22, 2014 @ 12:29 pm

  10. Martin, I think that last sentence is a fantastic critique of my position. Maybe not in this thread, but it would be helpful if you could unpack and explain it a bit more. I think there is definitely something for me to learn from it.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 22, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

  11. Chris H. (#4),

    Buh-bye. You’re done here. It turns out you are a scummy, pathetic little troll. I’ve seen enough of your repeated, unwarranted meanness at my blog.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 22, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

  12. Jeff G.,

    I’m wingin’ it but here is a start.

    Lets makes grid or continuum that has one axis as religiousness and another axis that is authoritarianism.

    So in theory we have 4 rough types,

    1. High religious, Low Authoritarian
    2. High, High
    3. Low, Low
    4. Low religious, High authority

    So moving to the right is more authoritarian and moving up is more religious in the quadrants I’ve sketched out.

    This fits in with the OP in the following way.

    In very rough terms, you are trying to divide people in box 2 (even to the extent that you tend towards almost defining religiousness in a mormon context as recognizing that LDS leaders establish religion with their authority) from the people in Box 3. Effectively, you are saying that box 1 isn’t really a live option for mormons. They may think they are in box 1 box its either 2 or 3 and you are trying to reveal that way. Your expressed hope is moving them to box 2 and staying out of 3 which is the deep and dreary wilderness of democratic reason.

    For you, its a positively sloped correlation and the action is around that line.

    Now the people who see themselves in box 1 (say Howard) see it the opposite. The see a negative correlation and that box 2 is as a ZD poster put it “jerks for Jesus” but that to the box 1 people there is no box 3 , you are just a jerk and in box 4. Authoritarianism to them is both non-authentic and not Christlike.

    So, I think your target market is really box 1 but I think to be persuasive and effective you need to address a few things. You need to more clearly define yourself as not being in box 4. Box 4 is where people use religiousity as a cover for promoting their racial, national, economic or sexual in-group against others in ways that have nothing to do with religiousness. These people are every bit as a much a cafeteria mormon as some in box 1, but they leave the Sermon on the Mount off their plate. They rarely pray for saving grace for the tax collector, welfare cheat, drug addict or libertine.

    That aspect isn’t my issue, but I do think its more than a straw man argument to point out all the ways the “kinder and gentler” commands made by LDS authorities are ignored by the people in box 2.

    But the heart of my argument is the people in Box 1. These people are highly religious but authoritarianism pains their conscience. If feels wrong. You seem to think that the principal reason that is true is because they are infected with modern, democratic values and if they would just see how they have been duped by Reason with a big R, they will have an epiphany and move to the Holy Land of Box 2.

    I don’t see it that way. I see it part of uniqueness of mormonism is that both box 1 and box 2 are part of the tradition. (You recognize that too with putting personal revelation at the top.)

    There are really 2 very different types of people you are trying to convince. The one’s whose heart is leading them to box 3 and the ones whose head is leading them to box 3. I think the heart people are the bigger group. These people really, truly think that authoritarianism is like drowning puppies. You need to convince them its not – some of those box 4 guys drown puppies but box 2 people don’t.

    The people who head is leading them to box 3 are a much, much trickier issue and you can see that in the church’s response to history for example.

    I think the “its God reason not ours” card is being played completely wrong with these people. What is to be gained by assuming God’s reason is revealed to us by authority? Why not just say, God’s reason is always imperfectly given to us by his leaders and you may know better, but just keep your covenants and believe whatever you want regarding God’s reason.

    Its a really, really poor tactic to say God’s reason is inscrutable but do what we say. Why not say God’s reason is inscrutable so do the best you can to live his commandments.

    This is where I get into the whole Satan versus Jesus comparison. Requiring people to admit that authority is God’s word, full stop, is taking away the agency of leaders in my opinion. We have all kinds of examples in the scriptures of the leaders of God’s people going against God.

    I know I’m exaggerating your opinion here, but I don;’t know that you agreed with me that you could say “I don’t know if this is correct, but here’s a way of thinking about authority that helps me live the commandments.”

    But back to the feature vs. bug question. How do you know that the gain in souls from presenting “religious truth = what religious authorities say” will outweigh the soles lost from “if authorities only say what God wants said and those saying pain my conscience, then they must not be the real authorities.

    I don’t really like the second half of this post but I’ll leave it. I’ll just say that I believe that if one is always drawing distinctions about what “the church really is” then some people may take your word for it and say thanks Jeff for showing me I don’t belong in the church.

    That’s another irony I’ve pointed out. Even under an authoritarian interpretation of the church, its for the authorities to decide that not you. Effectively, the more I believe you the less weight I should give your interpretation of what the authorities say. Arguing for authority does not give one any more standing as an authority.

    Like I said, ignore the second half and think about the languages and mindset of the different boxes.

    Comment by Martin James — August 22, 2014 @ 4:13 pm

  13. Jeff G.,

    At the risk of getting booted, Geoff J’s comment, even or especially if its true, seems like box 4 and not box 2.

    I know Geoff J. thinks I have the New Testament all wrong, but what not just ban Chris without adding scummy, pathetic troll?

    Comment by Martin James — August 22, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

  14. I wanted to make sure my honest (albeit fairly newly amended) opinion of Chris was clear before I banned him.

    And yes, I am the supreme authority at this blog (high authority) and no I didn’t pray about banning Chris (low religious) because I’m convinced God won’t mind.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 22, 2014 @ 4:21 pm

  15. Interesting comment Martin James. I would argue that religion at it’s best is the mortalization of spirituality, should have spirituality as it’s main goal and spirituality in it’s positive sense leads toward a voluntary intimate oneness with God. So to me High religious, High Authoritarian are both contaminated and in congruent. I see the beatitudes as a step in the right direction but in practice given our lowly starting place they seem to baffle most so they’re basically ignored.

    Can you imagine a High Beatitudes, High Authoritarian box? Even that is in congruent, isn’t it? So it’s easy to see that as we progress we need to become less authoritarian.

    Comment by Howard — August 22, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

  16. [Sorry folks. Looks like we had a minor stinky troll invasion since yesterday. I sprayed for them (and deleted their inane comments) so hopefully they’ll be kept out now. -Editor]

    Comment by Geoff J — August 23, 2014 @ 10:56 pm

  17. Ugggh. I had a decent response to 12 just about finished when the page crashed.


    I reject the idea that religiousness and authoritarianism (within Mormon culture at least) are entirely independent of and thus orthogonal to each other. This, I suggest, is the explanation behind the empirical correlation between authority and religiosity. All the same, I can follow Martin’s axes in order to articulate my position.

    First of all, I presuppose that all of my audience and thus my potential opponents in this debate as being highly religious. My aim has precisely been to engage the bloggernacle liberals in a way which takes their stated testimonies at face value. Thus, I have had very little to say about boxes 3 and 4.

    I do, however, acknowledge that all four boxes are live options even if all four options are not equally stable in the long run. In other words, I think box 1 is coherent, but unstable in that the further left you go, the stronger the downward pull one experiences. In our society, it is very easy to reject non-religious authority of fascism, due to the horrors of WW2. Nevertheless, it is still a live option as well, despite the strong social pressures that steer us out of it. This makes 4 pretty unstable as well in that the further downward one moves, the stronger the pull leftwards…. Or so it seems to me.

    This brings me to a major issue that I have with your grid, in that I have argued that we ought to reject all but one kind of appeal to authority and that is the authority of the priesthood as found within the Mormon church. Does this make me anti or pro authority? Where, for instance, should I place the catholic church in this grid? I acknowldge that they are authoritarian and religious, but I am much more willing to tolerate their religion than I am their authority.

    I think this serves to highlight my strong objection to Kantian ethics and its commitment to universalism. (I think Martin’s graph is very much a way of smuggling this secular universalism into the discussion without critical examination.) I think a Mormon should be pro-authority within their own church and anti-authority within all others. If any person from those other churches asks me why, the correct answer is because their authority (unlike that of Mormonism) is illegitimate.

    This also leads to my perspective on box 1. It is a very stable position within protestantism… but we are not protestants. Thus, 1 is very unstable within Mormonism, even though it might be stable within the larger world…. which is just another way of saying that the further left we go, the less Mormon and more worldly we become. This, in turn exposes a kind of ambiguity in what it means to be “religious” in addition to that already exposed in what it means to be “authoritarian”.

    Which authority? Who’s religiousness? To any of these mean “righteous” or “legitimate”?

    That said, I’m having a hard time keeping track of all the box numbers. If you wanted to write up a guest post on the subject, I think it would be pretty well received here. If anything, I think a lot of readers are desperate for somebody at the Thang to push back against my “extreme” views.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 25, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

  18. That said, I’m having a hard time keeping track of all the box numbers.

    Think of it this way. On an XY axis I have X as authority and Y as religiousity and boxes are

    1. Upper Left
    2. Upper Right
    3. Lower left
    4. Lower right.

    Before I go further I’m just happy and amazed that both you and Howard seem to roughly view the world as I said.

    For you, the line that matters is a positive sloped line.

    You said “I reject the idea that religiousness and authoritarianism (within Mormon culture at least) are entirely independent of and thus orthogonal to each other. This, I suggest, is the explanation behind the empirical correlation between authority and religiosity.”

    Which is what I thought you believed when I said “For you, its a positively sloped correlation and the action is around that line.”

    For Howard, I said “The see a negative correlation and that box 2 is as a ZD poster put it “jerks for Jesus” but that to the box 1 people there is no box 2(I fixed a typo, I wrongly put 3) , you are just a jerk and in box 4. Authoritarianism to them is both non-authentic and not Christlike.”

    And he said, “Can you imagine a High Beatitudes, High Authoritarian box? Even that is in congruent, isn’t it? So it’s easy to see that as we progress we need to become less authoritarian.”

    How often on the bloggernacle, do two people with opposing beliefs agree that someone has recapitulated their positions fairly accurately?

    Frankly, I’m a bit stunned, because like everyone else on the bloggernacle, I’m used to being misunderstood.

    OK, where from here. You say, “I think Martin’s graph is very much a way of smuggling this secular universalism into the discussion without critical examination.”

    But I don’t need to smuggle it in. I’m presenting to you the people that believe in secular universalism. Its very transparent.

    And even though you don’t like it particularly well. The words you yourself use, “authority” for example or “sustain” have meanings that are both secular and religious. You don’t want to recognize how much language and reason are presupposed in understanding the words and concepts taught by authority. I mean, why can’t they just pray that we will all know it and have it revealed to us without words? Kind of like spiritual email or something. We believe in that in some ways but not in every way. There really is no way to disentangle the secular and religious. One of mormonisms strengths is that it doesn’t have a theology that needs to.

    OK, back to where to go from here. I don’t think it works to focus the discussion to a certain group of people with a certain shared background in your worldview. Here is why. Mormonism is a universal religion, intent on making conversions. This means that it will invariably find itself in conflicts with other authorities. Authority is often rooted in tradition. If mormons accept authority because it is their tradition (say a Mitt Romney style pronouncement that it is the “faith of my fathers”) and avoid the second shoe dropping of “and my fathers have authority that yours don’t” then they aren’t being honest about their true beliefs. This is why I say I agree with you about authority.

    I think any argument of worldview about authority that doesn’t apply equally well to current members and prospective members is neither useful or correct.

    You need to think a lot harder about Islam for example. Your task should not just be to keep people like you from falling away, it should be to convert as many Muslims as you can. Authority says to preach to all the world and in our global world that requires a universal message. We have to tell one story to everyone.

    I believe one enormous weapon of mormonism that is in danger of being lost in this task of conversions, is its complete accord with scientific truth. We don’t need two types of minds or truth. All scientific truth is religious truth. Now, as we know there is no scientific truth about what makes something a scientific truth. If your church is making poor predictions and doing bad science, it is not the voice of authority.

    Adopting the rearguard actions of the catholic philosophers in trying to show that religious truth and scientific truth are different types of truth is not Mormon doctrine and I believe is a sign of a decadent culture. Why do so many young mormons look to other religious traditions – false authorities – to bolster themselves against the secular?

    The enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

    In order to be really, truly mormon authority, the beatitudes and knowledge of the world all have to come together.

    Almost always, our personalities and personal limitations limit us to one or maybe two of these perspectives but it takes all three to fulfill the promise of mormonism.

    We need to have authority, we need to be loving and we need to be right about the way the world is.

    The challenge I would give you is given the best knowledge of the way the world is, what is the most loving way to convince others of the truth of the authority mormon priesthood holders?

    I believe the reason we are not making more conversions is not God’s fault, nor is it the lack of faith of those hearing the message, its our fault in not taking full advantage of this combination of authority, knowledge and love.

    The fruits of that combination are obvious but, unfortunately, rare.

    Comment by Martin James — August 26, 2014 @ 10:25 am

  19. There is a lot in this comment that seems to really miss the point.

    1 – My posts are only indirectly (at best) about what Mormonism is or should be. My post are primarily about the contingency of the intellectual values that lead people out of the church. That’s why I have no inclination whatsoever to preach my same message to non-members.

    2 – Simply reasserting modern values and definitions gets us nowhere. I have tried my very best to use terms like authority and truth in neutral ways which do not presuppose one conception of truth over the other. Rather, I try to show how these terms and concepts are wielded differently within different mindsets. I feel like you have not done the same, but have instead reasserted the very issues that I am trying to problematize.

    3 – I do not accept the mapping in the same way that Howard did at all. For Howard, it’s easy because he lumps all authority together such that there is very little that was problematic about your chart. I, on the other hand, do not lump all authority together, so I have no way of plotting my views of authority as such. If the plot was “acceptance of LDS priesthood authority” vs “goodness of one’s standing within the LDS church”, then he and I would probably agree, for the most part. If it was “acceptance of LDS priesthood authority” vs. “spiritual progress” then we would definitely disagree. Thus we see that “religiousness” is also problematic.

    4 – My most defensible position is not that member necessarily ought to view authority and reason in the same pre-modern way I do. A safer version would be that members ought to acknowledge that the modern view of authority and reason is not the only defensible option that is open to them. Thus, if the modern view is leading them to abandon the Mormon ship, there is a perfectly suitable pre-modern life-raft in which they can be safe. Again, I see the modern conception of these things which sees itself as holding the exclusive rights to legitimate speech and thought as being the extreme view which needs to be problematized. My view is actually quite tolerant of a diversity which the modern view cannot accept.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 26, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

  20. Jeff,

    If I think modern views are central to what it means to be a Latter Day Saint (and by golly aren’t latter days and modern similar in meaning) them I’m under no obligation to accept your views on problemazing the vocabulary, instead I have to oppose it as false doctrine.

    I believe I’m showing that the results of accepting your approach leads to conclusions that conflict with Mormonism, for example the universal applicability of truth. You see this as missing the point and I see it as stating that your approach isn’t Mormon.

    Of course I miss the point, because the point in question has a poisoned tip aimed at the heart of the religion.

    Comment by Martin James — August 26, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

  21. The idea that modern definitions and values are the heart of Mormon doctrine is much more extreme than anything I’ve advocated. These definitions and values came from worldly philosophers who lived after most of the scriptures were written. I’m not sure that’s the strongest objection you can bring against me, considering how harshly you threw my philosophical influences in my face.

    I would also suggest that my views about certain truths being aimed at particular audiences finds plenty of parallels in the gospel.

    Finally, I think “post-modern” would be a better suit for the latter days, which would be a strong support for my own neo-pragmatism. But thinking that the name of the church undermines or supports anybody’s nuanced view here isn’t really all that defensible, is it?

    Comment by Jeff G — August 26, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

  22. Jeff G.

    Extreme neo-pragmatism is what we share. In fact that’s a pretty good description of Mormonism. Where I think you are on a dangerous path is having only personal revelation constrain authority.

    I believe that within Mormonism reality independent of god and man also constrains authority. I believe compartmentalizing truth is inconsistent with Mormonism.

    Mormonism is extreme, universally extreme, not partially extreme.

    Comment by Martin James — August 26, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

  23. I don’t think you and I mean the same thing by neopragmatism. Neopragmatism is very much a critique and rejection of modernism and the idea that reality that is independent of God or man can justify or undermine anything at all. It is suspicious of any non-solidarity based theory of truth, let alone a compartmentalized version of such. As such, I take very seriously that Jesus – the person himself – is the truth and not in any metaphorical sense… not that neopragmatism commits anybody to such a claim. It just makes space for it in a way that modernism clearly does not. While it is true that most neopragmatists are very much against the idea of authority unconstrained by reason, these same people would acknowledge that there is nothing deep or intrinsic in nature which says that that legitimate authority ought to be constrained. The idea that reason ought to constrain the king’s legitimate rule over his subjects in feudal times would have been a dangerous heresy. And last I checked, the church is supposed to be governed like a kingdom.

    I guess I still don’t see what exactly it is about my view that you think is so dangerous, and I would very much like to know. I do attack and reject the idea that modernism is necessarily built into Mormonism. I do not see the poison in my rejection of this view. Granted, it does place an immense burden on members to have a strong testimony in their own spiritual experiences, but I think this is a good thing.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 26, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

  24. Ps we’re on the same team pretty much.

    Comment by Martin James — August 26, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

  25. I would say neo-pragmatism is suspicious of all “theory” of truth. Rorty often talked about the difference between thinking reality does not exist outside of us (which he maintained he wasn’t saying) and thinking that reality can’t tell us anything meaningful about “truth”, which he did say. He didn’t think theories of truth did any work.

    I have no problem when you say, we should follow authority because they lead us to truth. But when you say “truth” is what authorities and tradition give us, then you are creating a theory of truth and getting a lot of work done for you by privileging authority as a maker of truth. that is neo-authoritarian not neo-pragmatic.

    If we were completely sKeptical of truth then you have no way of responding if I say that I’m following authority in whatever I’m doing. I just perform act X and say that I’m following authority and you don’t have anyway of showing I’m wrong.

    There are two specific examples that I don’t think you have ever responded to.

    1. Who decides if the prophet is non compos mentis?

    How can we ever have a top down decision on that matter. Either you say God decides (which really means never) or you have a non-top down decision.

    2. You don’t want to face up to the semantic issues either. What way do we have of knowing whether our linguistic understanding of the commands of authority is correct?

    Now, you may claim that both of these are extreme cases and not relevant to your posts, but I think they are extreme cases that show what is really at stake.

    What are two very common ways that authority abuses its power.

    1. Through defining who is crazy
    2. Through linguistic modification and/or degradation.

    These two are some of the poison that I’m talking about.

    Without pragmatic constraints on authority by truth, authority is more likely to go astray. Mutual admonishment, even of leadership, is part of the tradition in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 11:47 am

  26. There are a lot of misrepresentations here, but I can’t tell if they are strategic or accidental in nature.

    1) Neo-pragmatists do endorse solidarity-based theories of truth. It was the idea of truth being “reality as it really is” that does no extra work.

    2) Which is exactly why truth – in that sense of the word – cannot constrain or sustain authority.

    3) Thus, I don’t say that authorities lead us to truth. Indeed, most of what I say is an attempt to drop talk of truth altogether, since it is tendentious at best. Instead, I prefer to talk about what rules constrain our beliefs… and in the Mormon tradition, priesthood authority constrain our beliefs.

    4) As I said, truth as something which exists all by itself can neither constrain nor sustain authority. Thus, it is never truth which constrain priesthood leaders, but other rules and methods which supposedly lead to truth. In this case, it is the rules of reason, evidence and democratic values which attempt to constrain priesthood authority. I think it’s pretty clear that the scriptures do not endorse such a thing.

    5) It is a gross misrepresentation to think that I do not accept any kind of constraint on authority. Freely chosen disassociation, personal revelation and appeal to those higher in authority (which is what personal revelation actually is) and the ordained methods for constraining authority.

    6) Admonishing our leaders is a vague phrase. There are some forms which I think we would all agree to and some which we would all object to. Until a clearer distinction is drawn, I don’t see how this assertion does any work. After all, the D&C has various ways of saying that, essentially, authority is to teach rather than be taught by those within their stewardship.

    7) Who decides that a leader is compos mentis? I answered that is 5. Since the rules for adjudicating such cases vary across cultural context, we have no reason to place too much trust in the democratic authorities (scholars). Rather, we trust in those higher up in the priesthood chain. JS basically taught that it is up to the Lord how long any president is to lead the church.

    8) I’m not sure what the semantic issue that you’re referring to is. I assume that we both agree that we can only ask other people. Where we disagree is that I think that within the Mormon tradition, some people’s (those above us in priesthood authority) opinions on the meaning of words are more valid than others, and that validity in such cases is not measured by competence which is measured by secular standards. This seems to follow pretty straightforwardly from my view, so I don’t understand what the confusion is.

    9) The real question is that there is no independent and objective way of measuring “abuse”. Thus, the question is not how is abuse to be prevented, but who’s methods for preventing abuse are we to endorse? The Lord’s or the world’s? Your comments consistently and tendentiously refuse to acknowledge and incorporate this point.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

  27. so I don’t understand what the confusion is.

    The confusion seem to think that we can know the meaning of words either in a “wordly way” or “the Lord’s way.”

    But let’s take the word “wordly” itself. I don’t think it can mean “secular” in our sense because secularism hadn’t been invented yet. You use “modern” and say its new relative to Mormon restoration but then if that’s true how can it apply to modern scholarly practices which weren’t invented.

    “I assume that we both agree that we can only ask other people.”

    Of course I don’t agree with that. How can my asking be of any use if we define words differently? The semantics has to come from outside of language.

    You said “Admonishing our leaders is a vague phrase.”

    Aren’t they all?

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

  28. But let’s just go with your solidarity definition of truth and see where it leads us.

    You have admitted that you theories are extreme according to some others (other than me) who also place a high value on mormon authority.

    Solidarity sounds a lot like putting it to a vote to me, which means you are using a democratically held approach to truth refute democratic values which seems both incoherent and without a lot of solidarity behind it.

    Pragmatism is a lot more effective at criticism than world-building.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

  29. I guess a simpler way to make my linguistic point is that languages are inherently wordly and so we can’t ever be completely non-wordly when we speak.

    Isn’t it ironic you used the term “misrepresentation” when “representation” is suspect neo-pragmatically

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

  30. And yes, using wordly for worldly was strategic not accidental.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

  31. The worldly way is anything that is not the Lord’s way. So, yes, I can assume that it’s one or the other.

    I have argued (and I think I’m on pretty safe ground) that the modern democratic values come from secular philosophers and not from the Lord. It is these values that I am specifically attacking, even thought there are plenty of worldly values that are not democratic or even moral in nature.

    The whole neo-pragmatic point is that there isn’t anything that is completely beyond language. If something is to exist for us, this is inescapably due to the linguistic categories by which we conceptualize it. The only way we have to lock down meanings is by way of conversation….

    Which again boils down the the main difference: Does the validity of some person’s teaching depend to any extent upon their ordination or lack thereof? The Lord’s answer is “yes”. The democratic world’s answer is “no”.

    Saying that all this language is vague in the sense of being totally unstructured is not only absurd, but self-defeating. I have shown these concepts to be vague and ambiguous, but have then gone on to show the different structures and meanings which shape such ambiguities. Perhaps you could do the same for words such as “admonishment”?

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

  32. “Solidarity sounds a lot like putting it to a vote to me”

    People have found so many different ways of living together over the millennia. Why would we assume that solidarity entails democracy when the majority of scriptures were written by people who did not live in such a society? Also, there is nothing incoherent in showing that democratic values implode on themselves – even though this isn’t exactly what I’m doing. A closer parallel would be using a crane to build or take apart another crane. Nothing incoherent about this either.

    “Pragmatism is a lot more effective at criticism than world-building.”

    I think you’re probably right…. which is why I’m more focused on critiquing modern values than reinforcing Mormon values. This should come as no surprise.

    Just because I reject representationalism, does not mean there is no appropriate use of the word “representation”.

    A lot of these criticisms seem to be showing a stark lack of charity in that they show no effort at anticipating my rather obvious replies…. Unless I’m seriously misinterpreting you.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

  33. You are using your own binary, logical opposition of terms there. That’s a completely worldly assessment.

    “I have argued (and I think I’m on pretty safe ground) that the modern democratic values come from secular philosophers and not from the Lord.”

    Good grief, what could be more modern that inalienable rights which were argued for by an appeal to a creator? What of our inspired constitution. Or take Newton, that life long celibate was the furthest thing from secular you can find. You can call them wrong, but secular most certainly are they not.

    Many pragmatists bring non-linguistic experiences into their pragmatism.

    Here is a Richard Rorty quote, for example.

    Pragmatism is like Romanticism in its doubts about Platonic, universal Truth and Reason. What differentiates it, on my account, from Romanticism is that the Romantics tended to exalt something called Passion, or the Imagination, or Authenticity, or Depth, which becomes what Habermas called an “other to reason”—that is, something that claims to have an authority trumping that of reason. Pragmatists don’t believe that we have any faculty that has such a priori authority, and, in general, don’t want to ask the question of what has innate authority or legitimacy. Our view is that you can forget whether an ideal is authentic or legitimate or universal or deep, and just ask whether it’s useful for solving the problems of the day. What unites Plato and the bad kind of Romantic is the notion of your ideas having authority because of some privileged source, while the pragmatists say, “the hell with what the source is, let’s look at the consequences.”

    Consequences can still be non-linguistic.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

  34. That’s why I wanted “because they are right” meaning that “their advice works” as a reason to believe authorities in your other post.

    They aren’t just linguistic fruits, you can eat them.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

  35. OK, my charitable response is just say “I found that authority worked better than secular intellectual values for me.” That’s awesome.

    When you unpack it, then it gets sounding crazy. Stick with the rules of authority “Never complain, never explain.”

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

  36. And to be charitable, I’ll stick with “I’m pragmatic about when I use pragmatism.”

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

  37. Does the validity of some person’s teaching depend to any extent upon their ordination or lack thereof?

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

  38. If you think “never complain, never explain” is charitable, then I doubt we’ll ever get very far.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

  39. “Does the validity of some person’s teaching depend to any extent upon their ordination or lack thereof?”

    I’ll try to be charitable in understanding what you mean by validity, depend and teaching. My best guess is that if person A without ordination says words X,y,z and person B says x,y,z with ordination then the teachings are equally valid because they are the same. Now you may have me in a good spot relative to ordination and other things where the words alone don’t matter. (and I reserve the right to say, I didn’t know what you meant by “valid”.)

    I would say that the ordination increases the probability, all else equal that the words will be valid.

    I will ask you back, can the teaching of an ordained person be invalid?

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

  40. “if person A without ordination says words X,y,z and person B says x,y,z with ordination then the teachings are equally valid because they are the same.”

    This means “no.” This is a democratic value which is not of the Lord.

    Of course they can be invalid. I’ve denied incorrigibility and infallibility over and over again. A couple of times in this thread. This is why I’m growing frustrated. I have gone to great lengths to distinguish between

    1 – ordination does not matter.
    2 – ordination does matter
    3 – ordination is the only thing that matters.

    You keep trying to pin 3 on me, when nobody believes it at all. You just endorsed 1. My position is 2.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

  41. Even if you don’t agree with 2, you can at the very least acknowledge that 2 is a live and defensible option. Once that is acknowledged, I’ve won, since 2 just is the rejection of modern democratic values.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

  42. I specifically said ordination increases the probability teachings are valid which clearly puts me in 2. Ordination does matter.

    I just want to include ” not bad fruit” as a test for authority.

    Why do the scriptures and authority tell us to do good. It’s more than just a synonym for follow authority?

    I’m just trying to entice you to take on more than just critiquing intellectual values.

    It would help me understand you, which I do want to do, if you described more clearly how you understand love and knowledge which authority tells us are good objectives.

    I believe these are both premodern values as well as modern values.

    You assume that people don’t feel that authority has given them conflicting commandments(it wouldn’t be the first time after all) and instead it is obvious what authority is telling us to do.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

  43. I’ve never said that authority comes from modern approaches.

    I just want you to acknowledge that studying it out in our own mind is a part of personal revelation which you put above authority. Just because democratic values may make that the only authority doesn’t mean a similar process is not a part of personal revelation.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

  44. So are they the claims equally valid or not?

    A person comes along and says “xyz”. They provide the exact same backing for the exact same position. Does their ordination or lack thereof have any bearing on whether you ought to believe them or not?

    There are no probabilities here. It’s a yes or no.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

  45. Yes.

    This is neither very pragmatic nor very recognizing of faith. There is always a probability that someone is not really an authority even though ordained.

    Are you saying we are bound to the fallible doctrine of an authority soley due to ordination?

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

  46. “Does their ordination or lack thereof have any bearing on whether you ought to believe them or not?”


    “Are you saying we are bound to the fallible doctrine of an authority soley due to ordination?”

    “There are no probabilities here. It’s a yes or no.”

    This is neither very pragmatic nor very recognizing of faith. There is always a probability that someone is not really an authority even though ordained.

    Are you saying we are bound to the fallible doctrine of an authority soley due to ordination?

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

  47. “Are you saying we are bound to the fallible doctrine of an authority soley due to ordination?”

    What is this, the seventh time that I’ve had to deny this?

    “There is always a probability that someone is not really an authority even though ordained.”

    That wasn’t the question. You’re dodging.

    Is ordination itself – assuming its within stewardship and has not been voided due to unworthiness – relevant to validity? Two men, equally righteous and equally competent, teach some doctrine that we aren’t sure about. Does the fact that one is ordained and the other is not matter at all?

    These questions have nothing to do with probabilities. Either they are the same or not.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

  48. “Two men, equally righteous and equally competent, teach some doctrine that we aren’t sure about. Does the fact that one is ordained and the other is not matter at all?”

    Yes, it matters. For the nth time, I’m pro-authority.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

  49. But its a distinction without a difference because if they say the same thing, I will take the same actions and get the same reward.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

  50. “Either they are the same or not.”

    Your faith in logic and reason is absurd.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 4:59 pm

  51. You want the cake of either/ors and yes or no’s but you ate it with your claim to neo-pragmatism on truth. Just plain odd.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

  52. I’m a lover, not a fighter. When do we get to talk about love?

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

  53. “Yes, it matters. For the nth time, I’m pro-authority.”

    I’m not so sure you are. You keep saying yes and no in almost the same breath.

    You keep trying to take the focus off of the ordination of the person and place it on the truth of a statement. But that is not the question, and I think you know it. The only motivation for this refocusing – that I can think of – is that you do not think a difference in ordination in and of itself does not change whether we ought to believe what they say.

    My interpretation of your position is that, all other things being equal, a person in authority will have more or better experiences or some other impersonal reasons for thinking they are true. But this is not what’s at issue since this isn’t a true appeal to authority.

    What I’m asking is if there is any situation in which we would not believe some person’s claim but we would some other person’s exact same claim when the only – the only difference is that the latter person has priesthood authority over us while the former does not. No difference in the claims. No difference in the reasons they give to support the claim. The only difference lies in the person. And this sole difference is the only why we ought not to believe the first but ought to believe the latter.

    Do you believe that such situations can or do exist or not? (1) I think you believe they do not. (2) I believe they do. (3) Nobody believes that all cases are like this. I’m guessing you might be frustrated by my asking again, but please bear with me. I simply do not yet feel like you’ve answered this clearly at all.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

  54. The idea that modern and pre-modern versions of love are the exact same seems pretty suspect to me. I see plenty of reasons to think that the meanings and consequences of love have changed over time and across cultures. I think the link in this post provides a nice analysis of the two different kinds of love which are at war in our society today.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

  55. Jeff G.,

    I believe in authority because I believe people in authority get revelations from God that those not ordained do not.

    I am not at all a supporter of modern values and approaches as being the best way to find truth.

    People who want to be mormon but not accept Mormon authority make no sense to me. Ordain Women makes no sense to me. The church is patriarchal. Love it or leave it baby!

    That’s not what I’m concerned about. What I’m concerned about is that I see Mormon interpretations of authority being infected by modern values like Republican conservatism or secular economists or climate change deniers (not because I support the opposite, I don’t) but without any recollection of how worldly those opinions are.

    The LDS newsroom article on environmental stewardship is a good example. My concern is not seeing clearly enough the difference between secular authoritarian values or secular conservative values and Mormon authorities.

    They are not the same authority.

    Its thinking that following authority makes life clear and easy that I’m against.

    Here are some quotes from the LDS newsroom piece on stewardship.

    “Approaches to the environment must be prudent, realistic, balanced and consistent with the needs of the earth and of current and future generations, rather than pursuing the immediate vindication of personal desires or avowed rights.” and “all humankind are stewards over the earth and should gratefully use what God has given, avoid wasting life and resources and use the bounty of the earth to care for the poor and the needy.”

    I have yet to see a person arguing for the authority for leaders reflect on how complicated and sophisticated this is.

    I believe I am following authority to think carefully about what it means to do these things. This does not come easy because I’m not politically liberal but authority is telling me to rethink my positions.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 5:53 pm

  56. That sounds like a pretty respectable position. I would fully agree with the distinction between embracing church authority, etc. and right wing political values, etc. They are most definitely not the same thing.

    Let’s see if I understand you correctly now by framing things in terms of the 5 interpretations of sustaining the prophets:

    You agree with I think you agree with (1) and (2). Furthermore, I think you’re also willing to give some credence to (3). You reject, however, (4) and (5).

    If I understand things right, the crux of the issue between us is the difference between unconscious revelation and intrinsic legitimacy.

    I think you accept unconscious revelation as the reason or explanation for why we ought to accept our leaders, regardless of what justifications they can articulate. This articulation of (3) seems to match pretty well with what you’ve said.

    (5), on the other hand, goes a bit further, in that it gives the authority figure a measure of legitimacy which is independent of the revelation which they have received, conscious or not. Not total authority, but a measure of it.

    Thus, when you argue that we ought to believe a priesthood authority, you are arguing that the legitimacy of authority is grounded in the true revelation that they receive, whether they know it or not. The authority itself is not really a cog that turns any part of the mechanism, conscious or otherwise.

    To be sure, I think (3) is a very faithful position, even though I think it commits itself too much to a modern version of impersonal authority. (There is nothing all that anti-modern about (3)) Version (5) however, is most definitely anti-modern.

    Does all this sound about right?

    Comment by Jeff G — August 27, 2014 @ 6:17 pm

  57. That sounds about right with respect to authority.

    I would add that I think modern scientific knowledge, to the extent it is knowledge is a gift of God.

    I would also add that we are commanded to seek knowledge and to the extent we are more knowledgeable and loving the more revelations will come to authority.

    Comment by Martin James — August 27, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

  58. Well that’s good that we’re getting somewhere.

    1) I’m not sure that this is pro-authority, per se, since although authority might grant access to special revelation, it is the revelation itself and not the authority which morally compels our belief. But this hardly amounts to a criticism of your position.

    2) I would agree that scientific knowledge and democratic institutions are very much gifts of God. But these gifts pale in comparison to those of the gospel and priesthood authority. As long as we don’t equate scientific knowledge and democratic values with the Truths and Values (in capital letters) of God.

    3) I have serious reservations that our love and quest for what is contained in textbooks is the catalyst for revelation that all too many intellectuals hope it is.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 28, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

  59. One thing I have found is that the pursuit of scientific knowledge (while awesome, and definitely a gift from God) pales in comparison to spiritual knowledge. The two work hand-in-hand. The only bad part is the frustration that sometimes comes from trying to share it. *L*

    Comment by SilverRain — August 28, 2014 @ 1:59 pm