Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Of Dangerous Ideas - And 'Dumb And Dangerous Ideas' From Dr. Steve Mason

Stephen MasonJoseph E. Schmitz.jpg
Dr. Steven Mason  (left)- unable to distinguish a dangerous idea from a dumb and dangerous idea. Right- Joseph Schmitz, holocaust denier appointed as Trump foreign policy advisor.

In his latest Integra essay 'Dangerous Ideas', (Nov.-Dec, .p. 18) , Dr. Steve Mason outdoes himself with pseudo intellectual nonsense with his endorsement of "dangerous ideas". This would be a terrific essay if only Dr. Steve had managed to discriminate between the truly dangerous, for example - natural selection - which is true, and the merely dumb and dangerous, e.g. holocaust denial.  But alas, he doesn't, instead almost frolicking in the sheer contrarian shock value of the latter.

Why is this important? Well, because too many of our fellow citizens know too little about the holocaust and WW II in general. This knowledge gap enables hucksters and propagandists to harvest their brains. One of whom is Joseph Schmitz, a recent foreign advisor named by Trump to his administration. Schmitz acquired infamy by proclaiming, in dismissing the holocaust, that:

“the ovens were too small to kill 6 million Jews.”

Leaving out that the Jews were not killed in ovens, but in large gas chambers, as at Auschwitz.  The ovens were used to incinerate the bodies afterwards but because of the mass of victims, the Nazis later went to mass graves. It became too difficult to cremate thousands of gassed bodies at one time. This is why Dr. Steve's remarks bear scrutiny in the context of  his "Dangerous Ideas" theme. Let's return to natural selection as a dangerous idea before going to Steve Mason's example of holocaust denial.

In the case of natural selection which Tufts professor Daniel Dennett covered in his book, 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea', we have a truly dangerous idea, the moreso because it is true. We learn of a 4 -step loop process that amounts to "a mindless algorithm that displays no intent, no design, no purpose, no goal, no deeper meaning. This simple algorithm has been running on Earth for four billion years to produce every living thing, and everything made by every living thing" . A purposeless, algorithmic process - the horror!

It is "dangerous" precisely because it undermines orthodoxy (in this case religious) but also because it has the benefit of being true in the scientific sense - meaning  has been validated a gazillion times.  Then Mason breaks down and blows it with this.  (Even wifey, when I showed her his reference, exclaimed: "What an idiot!"): Mason actually wrote:

"Here's a really Dangerous Idea: The Holocaust is a hoax. It must be a Dangerous Idea because simply repeating those five words will get you jailed in  more than a dozen countries, including: Belgium, France, Germany, Romania and Poland."

Mason then draws an absurd parallel putting the "holocaust hoax" on the same "dangerous idea" level as the Apollo Moon landings hoax. In the latter case,  citing all kinds of nonsense "evidence", e.g. American flag "rippling" on an airless world, from idiot lunar landing hoax websites.

This again shows Mason lacks any balanced rational insight to compare these two. In effect, comparing the claim of hoax for an actually recorded historical genocide to a nonsense claim which is easily refuted by reference to lunar laser ranging experiments - only made possible by the fact laser reflectors were left on the lunar humans.

Incomprehensibly, Mason appears to regard both ideas as equally "goofy". He scribbles, in regard the lunar landing deniers (p. 21):

"The last I heard no one was locking them up.  Being goofy isn't against the law, so what is it about questioning the death camps that creates such a stir?"

He then speculates it might be because "support for Israel will diminish"

But he's off base in his reasoning. As I showed before, Mason often makes erroneous conclusions in his assorted essays predicated on a solipsistic viewpoint. For example, in his June Port of Call effort he actually questioned whether global warming is real based on: "Clearly I don't know but then who does?" To which I pointed out that Mason is not a climate scientist - like Prof. Gunter Weller- so no surprise he wouldn't know, his specialist training is in psychology not climate science.

The same sort of skewed reasoning leads him to question death camp denial based on something like offending Israel. In fact, it is a dangerous idea because extreme right, pro -fascist parties (like Marine Le Pen's National Front) in France, actually exist in the here and now. Further, they are eager to invoke holocaust denial as an auxiliary means to advance their own justifications for existence and agendas. The upshot of actual German history, as my German sister-in-law Krimhilde put it, is that even frivolous dismissal of the holocaust plays directly into the neo-fascist platforms, as we beheld in Munich back in 2013, e.g.

Those "dozen nations" Mason cites, therefore,  do not want a repeat of history, in line with George Santayana's famous words "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." They would rather err on the side of legal heavy handedness than regret it later when a future Fuhrer tries to duplicate the inhuman acts of the earlier one.  Impossible? Then read the Financial Times article below ('Ideas That Fed The Beast of Fascism Flourish Today') on how the same forces active in Europe in the 1930s are also present today:

The nations that prosecute it, for Steve's information, do so in order to impose a painful reminder that one cannot just lie about the past as a cynical way to sweep it under the rug to thereby better enable similar horrors in the future.  To put it another way: They already experienced the horrors once,  they have no intention to do so again! Thereby harsh laws punishing the denialists (who effectively diminish the holocaust)  are intended to send an uncompromising message: "You spread this crap - undermining the historical truth- at your own peril. We will not tolerate your lies here!"

So Mason has his head and emphasis in the wrong place. Apart from those countries bearing far right parties eager to exploit holocaust denial they were also places whose citizens were packed  into box cars for transport to death camps (Treblinka,  Auschwitz,  Mauthausen etc.)  to be gassed and for which we possess actual visual and other recorded evidence that it happened, e.g. the scene below photographed outside of Mauthausen by Russian soldiers who liberated that camp in 1945:

This is emphatically not the stuff of droll essays in a high IQ journal, or invoking facetious word games.

Poland was among the worst affected nations, featuring the death camp Auschwitz, where over 1.6 million were slaughtered and Dr. Josef Mengele performed hideous experiments on children, see e.g.

Mason, by using a specious basis to compare dangerous ideas  (conflating goofy, stupid ones with serious ones) actually demeans and diminishes the import of the real ones, e.g.  the denial of the factual genocide of 6 million Jews.   Let us also  reference how he earlier chirps: "I should come clean and admit I like dangerous ideas!"  Evidently, both the dumbass and the serious dangerous, like holocaust denial.

Now, to be fair, Mason is not a stupid guy by any means. He can't be to have become a doctor in psychology or a member of Intertel. However, he does have a habit of becoming overly enchanted with his own peculiar, idiosyncratic ruminations. This solipsistic fascination leads him to wander off the rational reservation at times,  writing idiotic essays in Intertel's media.

Recall Mason is the same character who wrote several months ago (in the June Port of Call NL):

 "How can I believe anything when what I believe changes?"   This is actually a misrepresentation of his stance when what he really meant was "How can I believe anything when the science behind it changes?" And seen in this light, one wonders if Mason was ever a genuine scientist at all, because the very nature of the scientific enterprise is to mount new discoveries, via new findings obtained from ever more refined instruments and techniques. Hence the change from the old epicycles-based Ptolemaic solar system to the heliocentric one. Or, the change from Bohr's simple 'planetary' model atom to the wave model of Schrodinger, Born et al. Or the change from Newtonian gravitation to general relativity (though the former is still used for space trajectories, missions).

In the current essay, after ruminating on Darwin's dangerous idea,  he recycles  similar nonsense to that  he opined in the June PoC, writing (p. 19).:

"The world of science - if you wait long enough - is always wrong anyway!"

If he really, truly believes this codswallop I'd like him to explain to me how it is we can reliably use celestial mechanics to send space craft (like Curiosity Rover) to Mars, and the Horizons probe to Pluto.  If science is "always wrong" how can that be? Well, ok, maybe he's thinking 5 billion years in advance when orbits likely shift for a variety of reasons. But, in that case it isn't the (current) science that's wrong, it's the fact orbital elements would have changed.

Same thing with quantum theory, one of the most complete we have, which enables us to correctly predict the spectral line emissions of atoms as well as the working of solid state devices.

It seems clear based on these examples that Mason's glib takes on physical science disclose he really doesn't know much about it. I would bet he actually thinks that because Einstein's theory of gravity is used, Newtonian gravitation is wrong or passe.  If so, he'd  probably be amazed to learn that Newtonian gravitational theory is what enables our celestial mechanics to get space craft to Mars, the Moon, or Jupiter.

The point is that a real scientist - even a psychiatrist or psychologist- would know and understand science HAS to change for our understanding of the cosmos, nature to evolve. It is unscientific and naive to expect findings to remain static. At the same time, the true expert in science has to know that changes in a scientific discipline - like physics - don't necessarily mean the former theory is chucked. Again, look at Newtonian gravitational theory and Newton's laws of motion.  These still have applicability at macro-scale levels, and at speed much less than the velocity of light, c.

Other Mason examples in his essay are more clearly and rationally chosen, and articulated. For example, the dangerous idea that "religion is a WMD". (Though I would have phrased it as a "mind virus of mass destruction")  Another plausible choice is that "our system of government causes us to elect the worst candidates".  (Say like Donald Trump) To support that dangerous idea he cites evidence from evolutionary psychology, to wit, "groups work best only when they get behind a leader, to put him in that position".  This contrast with our money-graft  system where candidates aspiring to be leaders must incessantly beg for money and votes, so "are probably the least well qualified for command" - again from an evolutionary psychology standpoint.

These are "dangerous ideas" to be sure, like Darwin's natural selection, but based on a record of data, investigations and historical experience. They are worthy of consideration in an essay aimed at  people in the upper 1 percent of IQs, in other words. But holocaust denial and fake lunar landings are not in that same category. The first is indeed dangerous, and not merely as an idea.  The second is too stupid and easily disproven to be considered truly dangerous.

See also:

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