Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Ideological Turing Test Strategy Post

The results of Leah Libresco's 2013 Ideological Turing Test are mostly out now, so it seems like time for a strategy post. As the answer key reveals, I wrote Christian Entry #11 and Atheist Entry #1 in this year's test (this is the first time I've participated though I followed the last two with interest, and it's been a very enjoyable experience.

Over the last week Leah posted the results of the voting on who was genuine and who was faking. Christians voted on which Christian entries were really by Christians. Atheists voted on which atheist entries were really by atheists. I'm pretty pleased with my results. I came in as the third most convincing Christian entry and the second most convincing atheist entry. The real winner is, of course, Gilbert of The Last Conformer, who was the second most convincing Christian and the most convincing atheist. Another item of note in how the atheist entries were scored is that the two pieces voted by atheists most likely to be written by an atheist were Gilbert's and mine. After that came all five atheist entries in a block, and then the remaining four Christian entries.

In the Christian round, two approaches successfully fooled me. An atheists named Steve who wrote Christian entry #5 fooled me simply be writing a fairly minimalist entry. My comment at the time was:
This probably underlines that "don't say too much" is a good strategy, but I don't see anything that sets off my radar. I'll go "likely Christian".

Chris Halquist, another atheist, fooled me by writing Christian Entry #10 in which he presented himself as a very progressive Christian, a Protestant who was open to both polyamory and euthanasia. I know some Protestants like this, so I couldn't rule out that the entry was from a real person, but I find these views so unpersuasive that I found it really hard to tell if the person was doing a good job or not. So the lesson there would seem to be: picking a specific character which is not in your opponent's area of strength is a good strategy. It would be interesting to know if Chris's entry would be convincing to someone who actually was a very liberal Protestant.

Writing my own entry for the atheist round I found more challenging than I'd expected. My original plan was that I would take my basic instincts, remove specifically Christian beliefs, and have that as my atheist persona. I figured that my atheist would be kind of libertarian, but basically traditional in his leanings. I'd support euthanasia so long as it was clear that it was an action of personal autonomy -- someone who wanted to end his own life. On polyamory, I figured my atheist persona would pretty much have to be in favor of gay marriage, so my line would be: "The idea of supporting legalized group marriage is a distraction from real justice issues like legalizing gay marriage." It just seemed like virtually no one would really be in favor of giving legal recognition to group marriages.

However, I got to thinking that I'm getting older and haven't been talking about these kind of issues with the non-religious set lately, so I thought I better test my instincts. An old acquaintance had put together a Facebook group for discussing hot button issues, and I knew there were a lot of atheists and agnostics who were part of the group, so I put out the question: If you are in favor of gay marriage, do you think that polyamorous relationships should also be given legal recognition. As I wrote at the time, I was kind of shocked to find that virtually every respondent insisted (sometimes heatedly) that of course plural marriages should have legal recognition.

So now I had a problem: It seemed like if I wanted to write a fairly mainstream atheist piece for the Turing Test, I needed to argue in favor of polyamory. However, I myself find the whole idea deeply silly -- I clearly couldn't just write as me but without specifically religious elements. My solution was to fall back on Arnold Kling's three axis model for political ideology and build a rationale for polygamous marriage based on having my atheist rely very heavily on the oppression and coercion axes. Thus, my atheist's argument began:
It seems to me that the purpose of civil marriage is not to tell people who they should be in a relationship with, but rather to grant legal recognition and rights to the people who are in fact in relationships. As such, the question is not “should more than two people be allowed to form a marriage?” but rather “do more than two people want to form a marriage?”
I don't buy this for a minute, but it seemed like the sort of approach that would appeal if you put all your emphasis on those two axes. I take it that the effort was moderately successful since the entry ended up being voted more likely to be atheist than any of the actual atheist entries.

The final element was the "bonus question" about what type of story best expresses your philosophical viewpoint. My answer there just kind of came to me one evening. I almost didn't include it, because I worried that it would seem way too over-the-top, but I guess it worked out:
I think the genre which would best express my worldview is the coming of age novel.

The novel is the quintessential modern literary form. The narrative structure allows a focus on psychology which allows deeper insight into the human experience. It allows for complex plot and for multiple viewpoints.

The coming of age novel in particular deals with what I think is the key human experience: that point when we realize that there is nothing magical about adults. In some says, I’d say that religious experience is rooted in a refusal to ever quite accept that there are no “adults” out there operating on a higher plane and looking after us.
There’s a scene in Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood which crystalized for me the pretense behind religion. The main character is sitting in her church service and it suddenly becomes very plain to her that there’s simply nothing going on there. The same realization came to me much more gradually, but when I read Dillard’s book in high school I thought it summed up the liberation of realizing that there’s no god tip-toeing through the room when people close their eyes and pray.

Perhaps the book I’ve read most times in my life is Ender’s Game, another coming of age novel, and while Card himself seems intent on bringing in religious topics (he’s Mormon) I always drew a lot from the way in which Ender realizes that the adults are not guardians of goodness. And it’s especially key that it’s empathy that allows him to understand the “Buggers” in a way in which the adults in his life are incapable.

One set of books that I found myself unable to love, even though I read a lot of fantasy, was the Narnia books, and I think one of the reasons is that Lewis never really lets his characters grow up. They have to remain children in relation to his god-stand-in, Aslan. The only character who does clearly grow up is Susan, whom Lewis condemns.
I did read An American Childhood in high school, and that scene really turned me off but it stuck with me. Indeed, it was the first thing I thought of when I read a piece by one of the New Atheists where he related a similar anecdote. Then I threw in Ender's Game because I figured that I could hardly be a Leah-reading atheist and not be a SF fan. And the dig at Narnia was a tribute to various riffs on the Narnia books by atheists that I've read over the years.


Sarah said...

I've read the atheist defense of Susan, but I don't understand it. Lewis isn't condemning her for being an "adult" or a sexual woman. She is obsessed with lipsticks, nylons, parties, being admired. As a feminist (of the pro-life variety) I must say that Susan is hardly the poster child for an adult woman. And Miss Polly says as much.

Josiah Neeley said...

"If it’s never permissible to end a life, then why exactly do we all die?"

Brilliant opening.