An Alternative to Dishonesty as the Cause of Persistent Misrepresentation of Ideas and Arguments

From: Chris Cogan (
Date: Mon Jan 10 2000 - 21:45:43 EST

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    > On Wed, 15 Dec 1999 10:49:37 -0800, Chris Cogan wrote:
    > [...]
    > >>>CC>>... Trying to get
    > >>>Stephen to quit misrepresnting Gould, Dawkins, myself, Susan, and
    > >>>else who's handy may be a waste of time. In fact, even bothering to
    > >>>these occurrences out to people may be a waste of time.
    > >SJ>>No "may" about it. It *is* a "a waste of time". It does not matter in
    > >>slightest what Chris imagines my character to be.
    > >CC>It's not *primarily* about character. It's about the persistent and
    > >uniform misrepresentation of your opponents' views and arguments.
    > I have given Chris twice now the opportunity to document even *one*
    > "misrepresentation" of my "opponents' views and arguments" as follows:
    > --------------------------------------------------------------------
    > On Mon, 13 Dec 1999 21:02:34 +0800, Stephen E. Jones wrote:
    > [..]
    > It is always possible that I have honestly misunderstood something that
    > Chris has written. The relevant part of Webster's Dictionary's definition
    > "misrepresent" is: "1 : to give a false or misleading representation of
    > usually with an intent to deceive or be unfair <misrepresented the facts>"
    > ( Therefore it is technically
    > possible to misrepresent someone *unintentionally*. In such cases, all
    > needs to do is clarify what he meant and if it was just a misunderstanding
    > should be resolved.
    > But I take it that when Chris says I "misrepresent" what he says, he means
    > it is "with an intent to deceive or be unfair". But how Chris could
    > know this is beyond me. In each instance he would need to show that:
    > 1) I was representing the facts different from what they objectively were
    > (i.e. it is not a matter of our different metaphysical worldviews
    > the facts differently);
    > 2) I was not *unintentionally* misrepresenting his position, (i.e. due to
    > of clarity in his explanation or my lack of understanding of it); and
    > 3) I was *intentionally* intending in my own mind to represent falsely
    > Chris had just written, and send my intentional misrepresentation to a
    > mailing list on which Chris himself is a member!
    > If Chris wants to make his claims that I am *intentionally*
    > what he says, then he would need to work through those steps from 1) to
    > 3) proving each one of them to be true.
    > Until he does that, his claims of *intentional* "misrepresentation" are
    > that: *claims*.
    > Of course if Chris was willing to do that, natural justice would mandate
    > that Chris himself could not be the `prosecution', `sole witness',
    > `jury' and `executioner' in such a `trial'!

    Because of Stephen Jones and many other people like him, I've come to some
    new "conclusions" concerning what I have referred to as his dishonesty.

    I've referred before to the fact that some people have an automatic
    cue-based way of responding to things, so that, if a few cues are present,
    the mind instantaneously produces a certain basic evaluation, an evaluation
    that will *not* be fundamentally corrected by further evidence or by further
    thought (if any). I've seen this mechanism at work in fundamentalists,
    religious nutcakes of all sorts, modern "liberals" (i.e., the kind who are
    anything but liberal-minded with respect to how they relate to other people,
    etc.), computer programmers, radical left-wing feminists, and, occasionally,
    even myself. It consists of plucking a few cues out of the total context and
    ignoring or nearly ignoring the rest, so that, regardless of the *actual*
    meaning of what is being said, the person responds as if a certain
    pre-evaluated idea or set of ideas was being offered. Many qualifiers,
    negations, and obvious contextual modifiers are missed or discounted.

    The result is almost guaranteed to be a misunderstanding of what is being

    Part of the cause is psychological/motivational; the person simply has so
    little respect for the truth, or so much blind and misplaced trust in his
    ability to understand things on the basis of such cues that he simply does
    not bother to read or listen more carefully. He may also be *so* thoroughly
    attached to a set of ideas that anything that appears to be a threat to them
    must be rejected, whether there is a sound basis for doing so or not. For
    example, a person who holds some kind of relationship with some variant of a
    Christian God as *the* meaning of life may not be prepared to examine ideas
    that conflict with his particular theory objectively because of the
    ego-threat involved in such ideas. This is one of the consequences,
    typically, of attempting to find the meaning of life in something outside of
    oneself, such as God or a political movement or "social justice."

    But, part of the cause is what I call "semi-conceptuality." Concepts, to be
    maximally useful and minimally-fraught with harmful side-effects, must be
    carefully formulated (at least implicitly). But, most people reach a certain
    level of conceptual development early in their teens and essentially *stay*
    at that level for the rest of their lives, despite learning some additional
    "facts" and secondary intellectual skills. Full conceptual development is in
    fact quite rare, and usually is limited to one or a few areas of a person's
    life even when it is achieved.

    Responding to ideas on the basis of linguistic cues included in their
    expression is an example of semi-conceptuality because it is a response in
    terms of nonessentials and accidentals rather than in terms of the ideas the
    speaker or writer is *actually* expressing.

    So, at least theoretically, it is possible that Stephen Jones is honest but
    is merely trapped in an irrational metaphysics, epistemology, and morality
    by a set of self-reinforcing ideas that he does not have the intellectual
    development or motivation to properly critique. Part of the effect of many
    systems of ideas is to strongly hinder core intellectual development, thus
    protecting themselves from being detected and rejected by their host.
    Whether Stephen's intellectual development *is* thus hindered or not, I
    can't say (though I *can* say that it is hindered by something), but it is
    clear that his beliefs *are* of this type.

    So, finally, I will withdraw my accusation that Stephen Jones is dishonest.
    Perhaps he doesn't change his ways because he refuses to acknowledge, *even
    to himself*, that he *does* routinely misrepresent the ideas and arguments
    of others. I suppose that even this might be called a kind of dishonesty,
    but it is not at all the kind of dishonesty I had in mind. It is possible
    that he is *so* caught up in semi-conceptual pseudo-thought that he honestly
    does not realize what he is doing to other people's ideas and arguments,
    even *after* it has been *emphatically* pointed out to him numerous times
    by at least four people who are or have been on this list during the past

    This is all worth bringing up because Stephen has wasted a *lot* of our time
    with nonsense generated by his misrepresentations of people's ideas and
    arguments, when, if he *actually* had any significant arguments to make,
    he'd have been doing himself and the rest of us a favor by presenting them.
    I hope that these remarks will at least prompt other, better-motivated
    people to be more careful in responding to the content what people say, and
    especially more careful in evaluating whatever Stephen Jones says. I hope it
    will prompt people to be *extremely* wary of his quotations, his
    interpretations of other people's ideas and arguments, and of his arguments
    generally. It is almost never a good idea in topics like those of this list
    to casually read what people say and then say to oneself, "Well, that sounds
    good," or, "Stephen [or Chris, etc.] is obviously right on that point." Such
    an approach is almost guaranteed to perpetuate and reinforce bad thinking
    and bad ideas with *further* bad thinking and bad ideas.

    Of course, these few paragraphs of remarks can hardly exhaust a topic as
    broad as the sources of human error, even if only in the evaluation of other
    people's ideas and arguments. But, perhaps some readers will find them of
    value. If you have any additions or comments, please feel free to offer

    I will go on to deal with other parts of Stephen's post in later posts of my


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