Friday, January 8, 2016

Here’s Your Spoon

In 2009, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, economic writer Stephen Moore relayed a conversation he had over dinner with the noted economist Milton Friedman:

At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”

According to Quote Investigator this meme should probably be originally credited to William Aberhart*, but it is certainly within reason to accept that Friedman popularized the quote and was likely accurately relaying his own version of the experience.

I first heard this story from our guest writer Scandacelt, and we got to talking about how this story not only demonstrates the difference in mindsets between those who understand that Production is the means for creating Wealth vs those who think more mouths sucking harder on the public teat is the means to prosperity, but also, more simply, it exemplifies the conflict between those who understand Reality, and those who seemingly have no capacity to even recognize it.

Comedian Bill Engvall’s signature (and ongoing) routine is entitled "Here’s Your Sign"** (as was the name of his debut album in 1996).  His main premise is that stupid people should be required to wear warning signs that state "I'm stupid."

For example, a trucker gets his truck stuck under an overpass, and the responding policeman asks "Hey, you get your truck stuck?" The trucker answers, "No sir, I was delivering that overpass and I ran out of gas. Here's your sign."

IMHO the routine works best when the person uttering the stupid line is obviously just being temporarily stupid, and has the good grace to be embarrassed by what they’ve said. The humor is rooted not only in the clever and snappy comebacks, but also in the imagined chagrin of those receiving the imaginary “sign”.

Engvall even tells stories on himself about when he has deserved a sign, like when he was once leaving a shopping mall and saw a man attempting to unlock his own car with a coat hanger, and Engvall could not stop himself from asking “Lock your keys in your car?”  He knew it was a stupid question, but apparently the words just demanded to be asked.  If I remember correctly, the man replied “No, I just washed my car and I’m hanging it up to dry.”  Bill figuratively gave himself his sign…

If you’re a psychologically sound, mature and intelligent adult, you’re aware that you’re an idiot on a fairly regular basis, no matter how smart you are overall.  This is just a fact of life, with all of us follicly-deficient apes banging around in this increasingly complex world.  We can’t all be brilliant ABOUT everything, ALL THE TIME. It’s impossible.  So like it or not, we’re going to do or say stupid things on a fairly regular basis, and get caught out, and probably the best we can do is gracefully take our signs, laugh, learn, and move on.

At this point I should probably admit that Yes, I was tempted to include an in-depth reference to Bill Engvall's occasional co-headliner comedian Ron White, noted for (among other things) his signature observation that "You Can't Fix Stupid", except that would have pretty much defeated the point of this article, not to mention cut it way short.  So you didn't exactly dodge a bullet there.

But what can we do about those ersatz adults who not only don’t understand that what they’ve done or said was stupid, but they can’t even seem to be made to understand. They don’t “get” the explanations, even if their stupidity is manifestly clear cut and (to those around them) undeniably obvious.

Whether they’re stuck in perpetual adolescence, suffer from a crippling degree of narcissism, have been rendered conceptually blind through their adherence to some toxic philosophy, or are just more profoundly stupid than they initially seemed, there are people out there who absolutely plant their flags on unsupportable points of profound idiocy.  And yet they think they’re on solid ground.

You may say “Hey, this is not a left/right issue. We’re not arguing Liberal vs. Conservative here, you’re simply wrong on the facts. You’re arguing with Reality!” Think "Flat Earthers", or like when an economist tries to compare the economy to electrical circuitry he obviously doesn't understand, and has to be taken to the woodshed, or even like Scientologists***, to cite a very few out of an infinite set.

When you engage these people, you learn that facts don’t matter. They reject your facts. They have their own alternative “facts” that they heard somewhere, believe, and will fiercely defend. They would dismiss the maxim of "you can have your own interpretation but you can't have your own facts", except for the fact that they don't recognize they're trying to have their own facts. We're talking recursive, self-reinforcing, delusional, intractable and often topic-specific stupidity here. If you want to have ANY HOPE AT ALL with these people, you're going to have to spoon-feed**** them.

If you've got three minutes to spare, stop reading for just long enough to jump over and watch Tom Scott's***** video "All The Colours, Including Grue: How Languages See Colours Differently", because I'm going to be referencing it below and that would, well, help.

Back?  OK.

As Tom Scott explained, the colors we see and identify by name are linguistic/cultural things. I would posit that they're also, on a more granular level, educational things. For instance, not only does "where you draw the lines on the color wheel" determine whether you even recognize certain colors as separate things from "other" colors, but also "how many colors" you've learned plays a profound part in what your brain "sees" in the sense of being able to specifically identify.  

Somebody who works every day with color gamuts or with standardized color classification systems like the Pantone set, for example, honestly sees more colors than I do, and I've got a very detailed sense of color (if I may say so myself) for someone who's not in such a business.  

We act, for very good reasons, as if these colors are separate things, but unless we're referring to photonic differences at quantum scales, they're really not.  Now keep up with me here, I'm not claiming that "blue" is the same thing as "red". I'm saying the electromagnetic spectrum of light is just that: a spectrum, and a continuous (or, if you prefer, "non-discontinuous") one at that.  

It is WE, not nature, who draw a line at the wavelength of 450 nanometers and then another further up at 495 nanometers, and call everything we see between them "BLUE".  This concept is important because we humans so very often get the cart before the unicorn, and our backwards interpretations can even effect matters of law.


Consider instead of the color wheel above, that the "spectrum" covers the biologic stages of life.  Where WE draw the lines and put labels is up to US, and yes it isn't just simply random - we are indeed labeling stages we mutually recognize.   But the first stage, the start of that spectrum, is "conception".  

It is a biological fact that life begins at conception. And not just human life, but all life which perpetuates itself through some variation of sexual reproduction. This is not a "right-wing" or "pro-life" opinion, and has nothing to do with whether or not there is such a thing as a "soul".  We're simply talking about biology.

I recently got into a Twitter argument with someone who insisted something like "a blastula is not a baby", while apparently not having any idea that HIS definition of "baby" wasn't exactly universal.  It should be clear that everyone participating in Twitter arguments are hampered by trying to make complex assertions within 140-character limitations (not to mention wasting precious hours of their frighteningly short mortal lifespan), but even so, you'd be surprised by how strongly people believe that the many major and minor stages of embryogenesis are "separate things" unique unto themselves, as opposed to culturally-and-linguistically-agreed-upon identifiable stages in what is actually a progressive continuum of developing life.  

Case in point, soon after fertilization and the initial stages of cellular division, we stop caring about how many cells are present. For laymen's illustrations this is usually around eight cells, but I seem to recall****** from my Pre-Med classes various levels identified up to 64 cells before we start going all "morula" and "blastula" on the poor thing. My point is that people who stridently insist that no embryonic stage is a "baby" or that any specific gestational stage occurs before they're "a person" is missing the point.  Worse, they usually automatically assume you know nothing at all about biology or science when in fact you might just know a whole lot more than they do. But worse: The measuring contest of "who knows more" is irrelevant.

Because while we're both talking in English, we're speaking different languages.

They:  A morula, a blastula, a gastrula, even a fetus, is not a "baby", and not a "person".

Us: Those are just a few of the many names we apply to the mutually-agreed-upon stages in the continuum of life which begins at conception and ends in death. It's all human. It's all a person.  At no point past conception or prior to death does a person start or stop being a person. To think otherwise is dehumanizing (which is the point), and just a means to rationalize away the concept of "baby killing", or on the other end of the spectrum, euthanasia.

Again, if you hope to make any progress here, you'll have to spoon-feed them.

"A fetus is not a baby!"

Yes it is, and in fact the word "fetus" (which, remember, is just a word we apply to a subset of gestational progress) means "baby", and more specifically "unborn baby". Calling something a "fetus" doesn't make it NOT a baby. Stop getting hung up on the language, and HERE'S YOUR SPOON!


"Gun confiscation will reduce crime and make us all safer."

You'll notice that that's not a "strawman" argument.  People really are saying this sort of thing, one of whom is our erstwhile President. Let's overlook all their fraudulent statistics (no, there weren't more than one mass killing per day in 2015... even the normally leftist mag Mother Jones came out and refuted that idiocy).  

Are you like me in being baffled that our ideological opponents just can't seem to (or won't) grasp that disarming law-abiding gun owners does not make them, or anyone else, safer from gun toting criminals?  Some of them can't get past the statement "well obviously fewer guns means fewer gun crimes", and they think you a dolt for not agreeing with them.  They can't think deeply on the subject because it's too emotional for them. They run afoul of Reality. And they find the concept that they might be wrong simply terrifying.  Normally seemingly sane people will leap to the unhinged conclusion that WE (the "pro-gun" crowd) just want to see more children die.  How can you argue with such madness? Where do you even start?  

You start with a mere spoonful of truth. And you let them lead you to it.

"Can you tell me a situation where you would want to have a gun in your hand? Does one even exist?  If you were being robbed? If you were being raped? If your wife, husband, son or daughter were being robbed and raped right in front of you? What about a bear? A well-armed gangster polar bear charging right at you?"

If no such scenario exists, if they'd rather be unarmed in all situations, then you can probably safely go all Ron White on them.******* 

But if they CAN imagine such a situation where, yes, dammit, they would want a gun, well, you can build on that. A spoonful at a time.


I'd planned for this article to be longer, and no - I'm actually not kidding. There are a ton of other subtopics where the same human behavior holds true.  "You can't recognize that to which you are not familiar" is a major if usually overlooked truism in pretty much every field of human endeavor I can think of.

Believe me, I could honk on endlessly ranting about how the dogmatic pursuit of utter nonsense and the abandonment of the precepts and strictures of falsification has completely jeopardized the field of Astronomy.  "OF COURSE mega-parsec illuminated plasma ribbons are NOT super-conducting... they're RADIATING, for heaven's sake! HERE'S YOUR SPOON!" And as exciting as I know that must strike you all, I'm not going (further) down that road (at this time).

Or how "Bathrooms are built for biologically-rather-specific purposes so it really doesn't matter how you personally perceive your gender, let's talk exclusively about your plumbing, HERE'S YOUR SPOON!" but I'll relent.

As they say in Congress, I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks.

But for now, I want to start a hashtag campaign.  Whether it's "#HeresYourSpoon", or simply  "Here's Your #Spoon", it has to be used exclusively for people who not only say stupid things, and should wear the "I'm stupid" sign, but who also simply cannot be made to understand WHY.

It's for responding to people who are demonstrably unfamiliar with Reality.

You know, like the guys from Vox and Salon.

Always start with the easy targets...

* Don’t feel too bad - I didn’t recognize his name either.

*** Speaking of which, have you ever heard that bit about how Scientologists try to "improve life through technology", or words to that effect? Ever wonder what technology they're talking about? You haven't? Well, that's pretty healthy of you, but nevertheless 'The Tech' as they call it doesn't refer to that silly little "E-meter" machine they "audit" people with, oh no, it refers to Hubbard's writings.  Seriously. His scribblings about thetans and Xenu and clams and volcanoes etc, and there's a LOT more vivid fever-dream transcriptions where those came from, are what make up "the technology", which is yet another classic example of a cult redefining vocabulary to hide its meaning.  Enough. The less said about those madmen the better. (Hat tip: ARSCC & The Knights of Xenu)

**** YES! Title thesis score! Back on topic!

***** A quick note about Tom Scott... I don't know the man, we've never met, and I seriously doubt he agrees with me politically on anything, so please do NOT interpret my use of his material as any sort of endorsement on his part. It isn't, and he hasn't. On the other hand, I think that HE is technically and linguistically brilliant. He's an apparent polymath and a gifted explainer of seemingly anything which catches his fancy (most but not all of which are technical in nature), who could probably have made my technologically illiterate grandfather understand cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks in under five minutes, while still being entertaining. I strongly recommend you peruse his YouTube channel. I'm WAY older than Tom Scott, but when I grow up I'd like to be just like him.

****** I'm going to have to plead leniency on this one since we're talking late night study sessions over 30 years ago.  If I'm wrong about 64-cell clusters being a standard identifiable embryonic structure, then I'm simply wrong, not lying.

******* As well as safely steal their wallet, apparently.


  1. I had this conversation on Twitter, discussing Planned Parenthood and their, ahem, activities:

    (They had put up a graphic about how "male 'allies' are sexist." Yes liberals re beginning to devour their own, if not nearly quickly enough." Someone appended the first tweet to the graphic, which ws responded to by the moron I had the (brief) discussion with.)

    (1st tweet) Nope g ‏@nope_g 24 Dec 2015
    @PPact But what does this have to do with murdering babbies?

    (moron)MrWolfe ‏@mrwolfeofficial 24 Dec 2015
    @nope_g @PPact No one is murdering babies. That would be a felony

    (me)arik matthews ‏@arik1969 27 Dec 2015
    @mrwolfeofficial @nope_g @PPact No, it SHOULD be a felony, but leftist scum demands it be a sacred rite.

    (moron)MrWolfe ‏@mrwolfeofficial 27 Dec 2015
    @arik1969 You aren't very bright, are you? Murdering a baby is a felony. You false equivalence re:abortion is noted @nope_g @PPact

    (me)arik matthews ‏@arik1969 27 Dec 2015
    @mrwolfeofficial @nope_g @PPact Abortion is the killing of a baby, halfwit. Your ignorance of science is duly noted. Moron.

    I think this demonstrates exactly what you're talking about: The left REFUSES to accept that what they are aborting is human life, because that would mean that they actually ARE killing babies, hence they are doing something terrible, and they can't imagine that they could possibly do something terrible, hence it can't actually be a baby.

    P.S. Here's an interesting link if you want to learn more about Scientology. It's almost incomprehensible that anyone every fell for it, much less that it became as large as it is.

    1. You're right, Arik, about, well, all of it but specifically the left refusing to accept that they're killing a human life with abortion.

      As per Scientology, I and a few friends were up to our eyeballs fighting the "Co$" online on the usenet board alt.religion.scientology starting way back in something like 1994 or 1995.

      I was actually on the phone with one of our anti-Scientology cohorts while the cult was performing one of their "ex-parte" falsely-sworn-out-warrant raids on his house with the cops in California over the "Fishman" documents (if I remember correctly), and I'm still in occasional contact with the guy today. I remember when Operation Clambake started, and when came online. It was great! I'll always be a foe of that cult, but it has been decades since it starred as the main online enemy in my life. I guess nobody ever really resigns (that I know of) from the ARSCC* (alt.religion.scientology Central Committee), and I'll always be one of the "Knights of Xenu", but I don't want to inflate my hands in things. I was largely an inconsequential lurker, online word-bomb thrower, occasional troll of Scientology drones like "Jet" and "Woody" (long story), and the cult even tried to dox me once, but overall I was very small potatoes in a large international fight.

      I'd name the real heroes, but they might not want me to...

      *There's an inside joke here that, forgive me, I'm not going to explain in a public forum

  2. Well written as usual Hunter, but I wish you had gone into more topics. Never be afraid of writing book-length on here, I told you a long time ago you can do that.

    The gun debate is a good one, and over the last couple years I've taken to boiling it down to this:

    'The most basic human right is the right to live, ergo we have a right to defend ourselves, ergo we have a right to have whatever implement, weapon, or device within our possession to ensure we can defend ourselves and thus live.'

    That is where the right to bear arms comes from. It has nothing to do with whatever unlawful actions one might take with a weapon, and there is no excuse for wanting to restrict gun ownership by millions of lawful citizens simply to prevent the few that would do harm with them. You can't justify removing such a basic right because a few might abuse it. And like you, I have had the same problem explaining that to people.

    I'll also point out, vis-a-vis your theme here, that ideology is a very powerful thing. It isn't merely a rejection of reality that motivates these people, and all of us "on the right" can fall into the same trap those "on the left" do. There are times when we all will overlook facts to state our case, because we believe that overall what we are saying is true. That can be a dangerous thing.

    Ideology is an enemy to reason. Applying logic to an argument is fine, like what I did with the gun control argument. It's simple, concise, and it does not call upon any one ideology to make itself an axiom.

    But arguing from the standpoint of an ideology will get us into trouble. That's how we earn our signs in these arguments. No matter what we believe, being dishonest does not justify getting your point across. That's where we all get into trouble from time to time.

    Nothing I've read from you falls into that trap, but I brought this up because I see it all the time in blogs and articles by "those on the right" with who I generally agree "overall". None of us are immune to deserving spoons and signs.

  3. You are quite right, Keln, and thanks for the reminder!

    Thanks also for the "Never be afraid of writing book-length on here" because I always feel that I rant on for far too long.

    Here's my spoon!