Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Symbols Are Important

Never think they aren't. Things like symbols, metaphors, images, models and analogies allow us to think about reality in the abstract. We can bundle our understanding of reality into one of those neat little mental packages in the list above and perform cognitive operations on it, or predict interactions between two or more and come to conclusions regarding the nature of the thing we are nominally thinking about. The final step, though, is to compare our conclusions or predictions to reality itself, and note and respond to important differences between our conclusions and the actuality as we can observe it. Iterating this procedure ought to allow us to better predict reality's behavior, even if we can never "know" the "truth" about reality. This is perhaps the central failure of the politcal right today: they are very good at manipulating symbols, metaphors and so on. But that manipulation is not an end in itself. The end is to better predict the nature of reality, which requires reference to reality: checking mental models against observations of reality, and repeating the process as long as one clings to life. Palin is the poster child of picking and choosing favored observations, then mentally constructing an entire symbolic universe based on that (very) small selection. But she never bothers to check her mental model once she's done; she simply presents it as reality. From Michael Tomasky at The Guardian,

This is the speech where she re-raised the spectre of death panels, but the real vintage Palin moment came when she the following, which Martin then dissects

Noting that there had been a lot of "change" of late, Palin recalled a recent conversation with a friend about how the phrase "In God We Trust" had been moved to the edge of the new coins.

"Who calls a shot like that?" she demanded. "Who makes a decision like that?"

She added: "It's a disturbing trend."

Unsaid but implied was that the new Democratic White House was behind such a move to secularize the nation's currency.

But the new coins – concerns over which apparently stemmed from an email chain letter widely circulated among conservatives – were commissioned by the Republican-led Congress in 2005 and approved by President Bush.

Do these people not have anything better to do than to worry about a phrase being not removed but merely moved on coins? And then work themselves into a state about it? Yes. It's a disturbing trend all right.
I wouldn't give her a penny for her thoughts. They're not worth that much.

No comments: