Friday, February 15, 2008

What is the reality based community?

In the past few days Larry Johnson of No Quarter has been engaged in a cyber donnybrook with daily KOS. Odd to note that for a man who has never done military service, he can be as salty as any sailor that has sailed the seven seas. He has done yeoman service in the CIA and other places for thirty years; it would seem that spooks would be little more politically correct. Be that as it may, his latest observations about Obama and daily KOS have been “frank and honest” in the parlance of State Department releases. They have been so frank as to have the KOSsacks fire a warning shot across the bow about not meeting “community standards.” Ah, the poor shrinking flowers of the Daily KOS community, they do declare that they are having an attack of the vapors. Yes, that vile scoundrel and brute of a man, Mr. Larry Johnson, has been ever so rude to them. His comments about Mr. Barack Obama have been ever so crass and callus and unbefitting of a true gentleman of good breeding.

Odd thing is that our dainty paragons of true virtue at Daily KOS have no such problems with the buckets of filth and slime being poured over Hillary Clinton. But the Clintons are not the right kind of people, not being to the manor bred and not part of the upper-crust wine-and-cheese limousine liberals that are so enraptured by Obama. The Clinton should know their place and kowtow to the wiser heads at KOS and let the coronation of the great savior Obama begin forthwith. The nerve of the Clintons still running for office!

This would be a bad parody if were not the true state of affairs at what was once the proud nerve center of the “reality based community.” Credit were credit is due Mr. Markos Moulitsas has performed a minor miracle at KOS. He has turned a profit from what seemed impossible. Making money from a liberal blog site; absolutely unheard of before Markos Moulitsas. But along the way something was lost. What was lost was the very soul of the “reality based community”

What is the “reality based community?” Without getting too philosophical this post will attempt to answer that question. Right off the bat let us piss off all the lurking Platonist and assume that there is something known as reality, that it is based in material facts and exist beyond our limited senses. Reality is a measurable, material construct that exist beyond our or any other observations. Apologies to all the Buddhist and Taoist and other lovers of eastern and western obscurantism we are going to have to accept that reality is um, well, real.

Drilling down a little further it will be assumed that Occam’s razor that “one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything” is the sin qua non of not only reality based thinking but of any useful truth or theory worth knowing. It is also assumed that Murphy’s Law, that any thing that can go wrong will go wrong and at the worst possible moment, is part and parcel of the world we live in.

Thus reality is facts base. You get to choose any opinion you want but you don’t get to choose your facts as the saying goes. Facts are found via research and sourcing. In the political realm they are votes cast, statements made, and deals made (both public and private.) Far too often facts get spun one way or the other by partisans. So when someone fails to vote or makes a lone odd vote that is a fact. The details of a house purchase are just that, so much money for parcel “A” and house “B.” A rash of bombings or kidnappings in Iraq is just that: they are facts on the ground. Reality insists we compare and contrast the theory with the facts. If the disconnect is too large it’s the theory that get trashed not the facts.

Reality also insists that we use clear concise logic in our discussions. Neither Freepers nor KOSsacks get to toss verbal hand grenades. Ad Hominem attacks and other non-sequiturs or fallacious arguments should be avoided. Most of all, argument should be made to facts and history about candidates or policy not to persons. Highly charged emotional baiting should be avoided. This is especially true when the charge of racism is bandied about. Partisans have been far too glib in using the cudgel of race where Obama is concerned. Not that some of Hillary’s supporters have not gone a little too far around the bend where misogyny is concerned. NY NOW and Jessie Jackson Jr. both need to bank the flames of their rhetoric, both have gotten far too shrill. Gather the facts, present them as unvarnished as possible, construct your points in clear, concise way with as few emotional appeals as possible. Do not prostilitize, explain. Passion is permissible but it should never be your only resource.

The questions any reader should ask of any post are: “how does this hang together?” “Do the facts match the conclusion?” “Are the facts offered true and sourced?” “Are the facts offered actually true, or is someone distorting or bending the facts or perhaps offering up of bogus goods?” Most importantly the core question one should ask of any poster is “how do they deal with facts that are inconvenient to or contradict their world view.” Unfortunately far too many “progressive” blogs and bloggers become regressive- acting like spoiled hyperactive five year olds- when their core beliefs get challenged. KOS of late has very much in the mode of taking “his” ball away when others won’t play by “his rules.” When did “my way or the highway” become a “progressive” meme?

This brings us to the final core function or value of any true “reality based community”: free speech. Herd or mob mentality should not be allowed. Free and open discussion should reign supreme. Yes trolls are a pain in the butt for any blog with delusions of grandeur. Unfortunately there are loony-tunes out there who have nothing better to do with their lives than flog their pet themes or pet ideas. Sometimes there are folks with nothing to contribute than a stream of invective and obscenity- this is again unfortunate. However, as much as possible all voices should be heard. All points of view should get aired within the limits of bandwidth and sanity. It is only a short walk from enforcing “community standards” to punishing thoughtcrime. Unfortunately some sites in left blogistan have fallen into the Orwellian rabbit hole so beloved of Little Green Footballs crowd. No defender of reality should be happy when a left/liberal site gives into the dark side and starts goose-stepping to the dictates of its beloved founder-cum-leader. No defender of rationality can be anything but distressed when attack dogs snarl from the porch of a “liberal” site. Contrarians should be allowed to voice their ideas. Granted when they are spouting garbage it is allowed to point out the errors of their way; but please no piling on nor gutter attacks- stick to the facts. If a contrarian wants to stoop into the gutter, let them be the first in- don’t try to beat them to the cesspool.

This post can only be considered the roughest of outlines of what constitutes a “reality based community” Time to open the discussion up. What is your opinion gentle reader?-inquiring minds want to know.

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